July 17 dealine advantageous to constitutional commission
-- Prof Hylland

Stabroek News
June 23, 1999

Norwegian expert in comparative electoral systems and systems of government, Professor Aanund Hylland, is impressed with the effectiveness of the work of the Constitution Reform Commission.

Speaking with reporters at a mid-morning press conference at the Park Hotel yesterday, Prof Hylland said that he had some misgivings when he first heard the time at the commission's disposal to complete its work. However, he said that since then he has come to be impressed by the effectiveness of its work and believes that it should be able to complete its work by the July 17, deadline.

Prof Hylland observed that there is no doubt that deadlines help to focus the mind and in that regard the July 17, deadline could be regarded as an advantage.

He repeated his opinion which he had given the commission last week that the country's Proportional Representation electoral system should be retained even though he thinks that some aspects of it need to be looked at.

Also, he said that a joint system which allows one half of the seats to be elected by the First Past The Post System and the other half by Proportional Representation would address the concern about proportionality and the relationship between parliamentarians and their constituencies. He pointed out that such a system is used in Germany and was used recently to elect members to the Scottish and Welsh Assemblies. He noted too that New Zealand and Guatemala are countries which use such a system. The present Constitution provides for such a system but it has never been implemented.

One aspect of the electoral system which Prof Hylland suggested should be reviewed and which was unique to Guyana, was the provision which allows the political parties to name the candidates who would sit in the parliament after the elections. This, he said, gave too much power to the leadership of the parties.

Another aspect he said that should be reviewed is the election of the president. Because the presidency is executive in nature, Prof Hylland said, the holder of the office should be elected directly by the people and that the presidential election should be separated from that of the members of parliament.

He also suggested that the functioning of the parliament should be improved so that the opposition parliamentarians could participate meaningfully in the drafting of legislation. One such mechanism, he said, was the creation of standing committees comprised of government and opposition members of parliament to look at legislation in specific areas.

With regard to the composition of the Elections Commission, Prof Hylland said he would recommend that it include more than one neutral member to strengthen its professional component.

He explained that there was no universal formula for its composition but stressed that the commission should enjoy the confidence of the major political parties. He also noted that the election process, from the registration of the voters to the counting of the votes, was very complex and requires that persons be educated about the process.

Prof Hylland also commented on the suggestion made to the commission which required legislation regulating the behaviour of political parties. He said that he thought such a move unnecessary and inadvisable even though such a system exists in Germany. He offered that the electoral system would determine the behaviour of the political parties.

Prof Hylland also stressed that while a lot of intellectual energy had gone into devising a system which would prevent ethnic voting, no such system has yet been devised. However, he insisted that it was important that the system should give the voters reason for casting their ballots on grounds other than ethnicity. Also, he noted that the electoral system should not allow one party to gain a majority of votes but yet not be the one to form the government.

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Guyana: Land of Six Peoples