Strong checks and balances preferable to power-sharing
June 10, 1999
A parliamentary system of government with strong checks and balances guaranteeing minority rights is preferable to Professor Theodor Hanf, than a power-sharing government in a multi-ethnic society.
Talking on systems of government on Tuesday evening at the Park Hotel, he told a public symposium entitled 'Issues in a multi-ethnic society' that a system of checks and balances could weaken the ethnic segmentation in a plural society in contrast to power-sharing which tended to cement the segmentation.
But he said that a power-sharing arrangement was, to him, preferable to riots and to preventing conflict.
Professor Hanf, who leaves Guyana today, was here for consultations with the Constitution Reform Commission. His visit here was made possible by the National Democratic Institute.
He gave as reasons for his preference for a parliamentary system of government that open-democracies were premised on the rule of law, accountable government and the right to replace a government which had lost the confidence of the people.
However, he stressed that in newly emerging democracies there was need for stronger checks and balances, citing the enshrinement of the Bill of Rights in the constitution as had been done in South Africa as one way of addressing the problem. He said that by doing so the Bill of Rights was immediately applicable as law.
Another mechanism put in place by South Africa was a Constitutional Court which had the right to examine legislation to determine its conformity with the constitution.
Professor Hanf also suggested as a useful check the requirement of qualified majorities for appointment to offices of state such as the Auditor General, the Ombudsman, the Heads of the Army and Police.
Yet another, he said, was the devolution of power to the various tiers of government, arguing that problems which could be addressed at a lower tier of government removed contentious issues from the national agenda.
Also, he said that where changes of government at the national level occurred at long intervals, it was possible for the opposition parties to gain power at lower levels which were not viewed as arms of the central government.
He noted too that the democratic imperatives of accountability, transparency and openness could also be extended to the political parties, requiring them to be organised according to democratic norms which provided for checks on the power of the party leadership.
Professor Hanf also pointed out that democracy could be established in communities which had no history of a democratic culture and did not require the presence of an educated society, citing Switzerland as a country where democracy had been established by a bunch of uneducated cowboys.
In contrast, he said that Germany and Italy which had traditions of learning, produced Nazism and Fascism respectively. Democracy, he said, was not the preserve of any particular type of society and could be established in societies whether they were rich or poor, developed or underdeveloped.
Power-sharing arrangements, or what he said was called in the jargon of political science, consociationalism, is "organised peaceful co-existence". He said that these arrangements, entered into after a prolonged conflict in which there were no winners, were enshrined in some constitutions or were as a result of gentleman's agreements.
Countries where power-sharing arrangements were enshrined in the constitution were Belgium, which entered into it to avoid a war, and Switzerland. Austria, Malaysia and Chad were examples of countries where the arrangements were by gentlemen's agreements.
Prof Hanf explained too that while power-sharing agreements had the advantage of preventing or stopping wars as well as producing issue-oriented opposition, they did have the disadvantage of generating a tendency to conservatism as well as facilitating the continuation of the cleavage between the contending groups in the society.
Answering questions from the floor, Professor Hanf doubted the utility of civic education, arguing that where this education conflicted with the socialisation in the family home, it was hardly likely that civic education would make a difference.
And in response to another question about power-sharing as a transitional mechanism, Professor Hanf said that if a society was in crisis, it made sense to get all the parties to cooperate in saving the economy from collapsing or to prevent a civil war.
He noted that the arrangements in South Africa during the transition were enshrined in the Constitution with a sunset clause which provided for the arrangements to end after a specified period. Other speakers on the panel were Carl Dundas, who addressed the symposium on voting systems and Rodney Brooks who spoke on local government. The moderator was Karen Davis and the opening remarks were made by Ralph Ramkarran, the Chairman of the Constitutional Reform Commission.
A © page from: Guyana: Land of Six Peoples