Constitution Commission votes for retention of executive presidency

By Patrick Denny
Stabroek News
July 8, 1999

The Constitutional Reform Commission yesterday voted to retain the executive presidency and the constitutional provisions for election to that office when it finalised its discussion on the issue yesterday.

The commissioners will return to the issue of the presidency today when they discuss the powers and immunities of the presidency as provided for in Articles 177 - 182 of the Constitution.

The vote by the Commission on proposals about term limits was inconclusive with none of them gaining the support of a majority of the commissioners present. The inconclusiveness of the vote was due to the commission's inability to precisely formulate the recommendation as to what the limitation should be. The discussion indicated a preference for a two-term limitation but there was no clear position whether a person who served two terms either consecutively or separately would be eligible to stand for election again after a suitable period had elapsed.

The retention of the executive presidency was supported by Commissioners Ralph Ramkarran SC, Reepu Daman Persaud, Philomena Sahoye-Shury, Dr Frank Anthony and Bernard De Santos SC, representatives of the People's Progressive Party (PPP)/Civic; Haslyn Parris, representative of the People's National Congress (PNC); Aubrey Collins of The United Force; Ramdial Bhookmohan, the Private Sector representative; Rev Keith Haley, representative of the Christian religion; Harrichand Mahadeo, the representative of the Farmers; Vidyanand Persaud, the representative of the Hindu religion; Fazal Jaffarally, representative of the Youth; and Anande Trotman, representative of the women.

The Commissioners who voted against the proposal were Miles Fitzpatrick SC, representative of the Guyana Bar Association; Dr Rupert Roopnaraine, representative of the Alliance for Guyana and Shahabudin McDoom, the representative of the Muslim religion.

Commissioners Deryck Bernard and Vincent Alexander who represent the People's National Congress did not vote.

During yesterday's meeting the Commission also considered and rejected making provisions for the president to be elected by a majority vote.

When the Commission began the debate on the issue on Tuesday, Reepu Daman Persaud stoutly defended the retention of the provisions related to the election of the presidency.

He argued vigorously that the provision which would allow the president to be elected on a minority vote would challenge a president to rise above narrow political partisanship.

He told his colleagues that there was no substitute for a president who has faced the bar of public opinion. Also that an elected president would need to understand that the political reality would demand that he/she could not be partisan in his/her approach to his tasks.

He argued that creation of a non-executive presidency was not the way forward as such a president would normally act on the advice of the Prime Minister.

Bernard explained in his presentation in support of a non-executive presidency, that where the president is observed to be partisan, those who did not support the president will find it difficult to express loyalty or patriotism.

He noted that in the present environment, he was persuaded that the president should be disassociated from partisan politics as the emotional connection to the state was important for its survival.

Bernard also said that his support for a non-executive presidency was that in Guyana the office gives a sense of exclusion because of the wide powers within the purview of the president. He argued too, that it would be difficult for a person perceived to be partisan to be persuasive in pleas for national unity.

Fitzpatrick contended that the nature of politics in Guyana is such that everything in national life has become politicised.

As such, he suggested that what was needed was a creative way of appointing a non-executive mediatory presidency in a manner which did not do violence to the majoritarian system of government. Such a president, he said, could be elected by a super-majority in Parliament, making it necessary for the majority party to seek consensus. Included among his functions would be the power of appointment in consultation with the Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition.

Such a president, he said, would have a small skilled staff and would be in constant contact with the leaders of the country discussing with them what was happening in the society and how the events were being dealt with.

Roopnaraine said that he would support the retention of the executive presidency if the president is required to be elected by 51 per cent of the votes.

He said that he was unsympathetic to any argument that the president should be elected by a minority vote as is now possible under the present provisions.

Dr Roopnaraine also disagreed with Reepu Daman Persaud's assertion that the present provision which allows for the president to be elected by a minority vote was intended to provide an opportunity for the holder of the post to rise above party politics.

He asserted that the author of the constitution did not intend that the president would have been elected on a minority vote or that his party would not have a majority in parliament.

At yesterday's meeting too, the Commission decided by a majority vote to recommend that the Constitution should provide for parliamentary oversight of the Office of the Auditor General which would include matters relating to its structure and the emoluments of its staff.

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Guyana: Land of Six Peoples