A desperate need for new forms of governance Editorial
Guyana Chronicle
January 7, 2002

WILL THE leaders of civic and political forces of our civilisation ever sit down and design one or two new forms of governance that would promote unity and togetherness amongst peoples of diverse persuasions?

We know that the zealots of the form of democracy, which is expressed through the principle of one man-one vote, will gnash their teeth in annoyance at the thoughts voiced here. But even those proselytes must have some doubts over the failure of this doctrine to address the many perplexing situations that now exist.

Foremost in our mind is the very odd, or more precisely, even situation in the neighbouring Republic of Trinidad and Tobago. Last Thursday, the rest of the Caribbean and the world learnt that two cabinet meetings were held. Prime Minister Patrick Manning conducted one while former Prime Minister Mr Basdeo Panday conducted the other.

Mr Manning was chosen by President Robinson to lead the government after the December 10, 2001 elections resulted in the two major political parties being deadlocked with 18 seats each. Many persons had argued that the incumbent, Prime Minister Panday, should be allowed to form the next government. Those persons against this idea argued that the then Opposition Leader Manning should be given the nod since his party had gained seats both in the Trinidad and Tobago. Immediately after Manning was sworn in as Prime Minister, Panday and his supporters began voicing a demand for new elections.

It is difficult for the ordinary observer to understand what purpose a new poll would serve. The People of Trinidad and Tobago have made their choices very clearly. They have voted for the persons they want to conduct their country’s affairs. And to President Robinson’s credit, he did ask the two leaders to discuss the situation and come up with some kind of workable proposal. The sad fact that no real attempt was made to formulate a different and innovative form of governance, which would have sought to address those important national issues as well as to allay latent fears of ethnic triumphalism, indicates quite clearly that winner-take-all politics is still the stated goal of elections in certain societies.

As Caribbean journalist Rickey Singh said in an analysis published in this newspaper on the day of the poll, never mind who wins the election, Trinidad and Tobago will be administered by another weak government. It was even worse than he predicted.

The new T&T political leadership was not only stillborn but it has also remained so inert that over three weeks after the election, a Speaker of the House has not been appointed. This means that the country’s Parliament cannot have a sitting. How, we wonder, will new laws and amendments to laws be enacted during this government’s tenure of office? This paralysis could very well hurt the most vibrant and productive economy in the eastern Caribbean.

The one man-one vote general election, this much-glorified mechanism of the western democratic process, has many woeful shortcomings for plural societies in the Third World. For one, it could be manipulated to exclude whole chunks of society and deny the voiceless of rights and opportunities.

In countries like Trinidad and Tobago and Guyana where ethnic insecurities abound, general elections are charged with fears and tensions and the looming spectre of one racial group being continually in a state of ascendancy over the other.

Yet, we can recall with wry satisfaction that this marvellous index of democracy stumbled and staggered in November 2000 when one U.S. presidential candidate with 500,000 votes less than the other, had to have his ‘victory’ validated by that country’s Supreme Court.

Countries such as Guyana, Zambia and some of the other blighted nations of the Third World waste millions of United States dollars every four or five years participating in the charade of general elections which solve nothing, but instead further polarise populations and throw up a plethora of social problems and dysfunctional situations.

The greater part of the funds allocated to polls should be assigned to improve the standard of living of the poor and voiceless. The other portion should fund a three-month retreat for Caribbean intellectuals, who can then devise one or more practical systems of governance that would promote consensus-building and be inclusive and acceptable to most of the people. -
Claudette Earle