A mature start

Stabroek News
January 19, 1998

The late night accord on Saturday between the PPP/Civic and the PNC, brokered by the three-man CARICOM mission is in itself a major breakthrough and has the potential to address both short-term and long-term concerns of all Guyanese.

President Janet Jagan and PNC leader Desmond Hoyte must be applauded for signing this pact. It however would not have been possible without the unhesitating acceptance by CARICOM and its Chairman, Grenadian Prime Minister Keith Mitchell, of a role in aiding one of its member countries in distress. To the rescue came Sir Henry Forde, Sir Shridath Ramphal and Sir Alister McIntyre who built on the solid foundation which had already been laid by the Head of the Electoral Assistance Bureau observer mission, Hugh Cholmondeley. All Guyanese owe a debt of gratitude to these gentlemen and CARICOM.

But the agreement, while an impressive one, is only a start and will severely test the mettle of all Guyanese. It is a test they cannot afford to shrink from.

We offer our wholehearted support to this agreement and urge all Guyanese - particularly the two main parties and their supporters - to do likewise.

Both parties have taxing obligations under this accord and must act in consonance with both its spirit and letter.

The agreement mandates a two-phase audit of the electoral process with a specific timetable. No impediment must be placed in the way of this and both the PPP/Civic and the PNC will be expected to cooperate expeditiously in the passage of any laws required for the audit.

More importantly, the parties have agreed to be bound by the findings and this is of great import.

There will be an immediate moratorium on public demonstrations and the ban which had been announced by the government on marches will be lifted at the same time. This is absolutely vital as the paralysis of life in the city cannot be permitted because of one party's objection to the results. The moratorium will abide for three months from Saturday.

One broad requirement under the pact is for the PPP/Civic and the PNC to engage in "sustained dialogue" to nourish greater harmony and confidence and in settling issues between the two. This is a vital pillar and the fact that relations between the two parties remain fractious and unstable is a sad commentary on the health of political life in the country. The two parties must show a commitment to engage in no-holds barred, robust dialogue which would serve as a valve for inter-party tension without it having to be played out by their supporters. The two parties must immediately give full expression to this requirement. The two are also to appoint senior representatives with plenipotentiary powers to ensure that the undertakings under the accord are properly proceeded with.

An important plank of the accord is the establishment of a Constitution Reform Commission whose membership will be much broader than the Parliamentary committee which languished under the life of the last administration without completing its work. Reform to the 1980 Burnham Constitution has been in gestation for too long and the political parties will have to show more solid commitment to this process. The inclusion of representatives from religious groups, the labour movement, the private sector, youth and other social partners is a welcome development. We look forward to the naming of a head of the Commission who will enjoy the confidence of all groups in society.

The work of the previous committee can no doubt be of immeasurable value to this new body and the new Parliament must be convened as soon as possible to ensure that it is given sufficient time to complete its report for presentation to the National Assembly within 18 months. The implementation of changes then has to take place rapidly to allow fresh elections to be convened within 18 months from the tabling of the report, the PPP/Civic having agreed to shorten its term by two years.

And what happens when fresh elections are called? Will the society once again threaten to slide into the morass of political and ethnic confrontation? The answers to these questions rest in the hands of those entrusted with constitutional reform and what sort of imaginative social engineering concepts they can offer society to heal the deep-seated fault lines which exist beneath the surface but which quake violently once certain signals are transmitted.

The leaders of Guyana must now rise to the occasion and deliver to its politics-as-usual weary citizens the blueprint for a future that flushes out ethnic and other insecurities from national life. These three years which stretch into the new millennium could set the country well on course to a much brighter, confident and secure future.