In extreme conflict situations gridlock is inevitable no matter what the form of governance
March 4, 2002
Letters on Powersharing
Your editorial [ please note: link provided by LOSP web site ] on the viability of power sharing (28.2.2002) is most welcome. Given your record of seriousness and impartiality, your editorials in our circumstances tend to carry much more weight than several letters as they suggest to the populace that the issue is indeed a serious one. You are on the ball when you point to the difficulties inherent in the power- sharing concept, which as you correctly say have been identified by Dr Lijphart and others. But whether those difficulties weigh against the potential of power sharing to forge nationhood and deepen democracy cannot be raised in isolation; they have to be tied to the concrete situation in the given country.
Obviously space does not allow me to address all of the difficulties you raised, but I will deal with one-gridlock. Gridlock seen in isolation is potentially counter-productive to governance. But within the context of particular situations, it could be a tool of democratization. Indeed one of the potential benefits of trying power sharing is the possibility for democratization as it brings more eyes and minds into the governance process. One thing I have been plugging away at, which seems to escape your attention, is that for executive power sharing at the level of the central government or "horizontal power sharing" to mean anything, it must be supplemented by more power sharing between the national government and local governments or what I call "vertical power-sharing."
For me containing the racial conflict is only one of the potential benefits of power sharing, most importantly it must lead to more substantive democracy than currently obtains. Guyana faces both a racial problem and a crisis of democracy. The two are linked as there is an obvious tension - Westminster democracy handcuffs multiracial governance and racial conflict imprisons democratization. Power sharing aims at disintegrating that scenario. That is the framework upon which my advocacy and treatment of power sharing rest.
But back to gridlock. Is the threat of gridlock really a problem for Guyana? A close look at the political process seems to suggest that it is not. Guyana is already one of the most gridlocked countries in the world, even without power sharing. The government takes forever to make decisions when they bother to make them. Your paper has on numerous occasions taken them to task for that. But the present system, although armed with the device of swift decision-making, is victim to two elements of Guyana's peculiar political realities.
First, the decisions must pass muster among the various contending factions within the ruling party. Although the party is ideologically united, its leaders differ in terms of which section of the support base should benefit from government largesse and to what extent the needs and demands of the rival support base should be accommodated. There is both a class and racial factor that influence decision making in the major parties. Second, the very fact of a one-party/one race government in a volatile racially polarized society slows down decision-making. The ruling party has to always be mindful of the opposition negative veto in the form of sabotage and street force. The question has to always be asked: How would the PNC represent this decision to black people? Or, how would ROAR represent this among our supporters in the Indian community? Or would the WPA and the Stabroek News pick up the faults and run with them?
Hence fashioning a decision that will not excite responses, which would endanger its implementation obviously takes time. In situations of extreme conflict, gridlock is inevitable regardless of the model of governance. The alternative would be rule by naked force as obtained under Mr Burnham. I therefore make bold to say that gridlock can contribute to democratization if it encourages broader and closer scrutiny of government business.
The other consideration here is how often countries like Guyana are required to make quick decisions that endanger the country if they are delayed and what is the nature of the decisions the government makes. Has there ever been a major policy decision that would have cost the country dearly if it were delayed a few weeks. I respectfully submit Mr Editor, that save for our responses to aggression from our neighbours and natural disasters and decisions on what to do about opposition troublemakers such as Walter Rodney and the WPA, our governments have never been pressed to make speedy decisions. I hardly think that either the PPP or the PNC would filibuster a decision to deal with a breach in the sea defence or protect our territorial integrity.
Your observation that the failure to take the conversation to the people limits its effectiveness is on the ball. I publicly criticize the power sharers, including my own party, the WPA, for this. I was invited by the WPA last summer to come to Guyana to participate in such an exercise, but we only managed three meetings in Georgetown, Linden and Buxton. A decision to follow up on those meetings has not been implemented to date mainly due to problems of resources and availability of personnel.
But I am concerned about the suggestion that the conversation on power sharing has thus far been emotional and devoid of serious analysis. Yes there have been emotions and instinctive reactions -why not? But to say that there has been no serious analysis is unkind. There have been several. The WPA's proposal was not a skeleton; it was comprehensive. Clarence Ellis and Eric Phillips have done a detailed paper, which was sent to you for publication. Haslyn Parris has done a brilliant paper laying out some of the theoretical questions. Dr Kenneth King has both in writing and on an edition of the Spotlight TV show has addressed some of the theoretical aspects. Eusi Kwayana has over the years probed this subject in many of his writings. Aubrey Norton et al have tackled the subject beyond emotions. David Hinds did some "spelling out" in his presentation at the 2001 Walter Rodney Lecture. Perhaps, Mr Editor, you are not aware of these works or you don't consider theoretical or open enough.
Yes we need more spelling out and open discussion of power sharing and other issues. But to say that the process has not begun is simply not true.