Guyana Political Crisis Result of Institutionalized Autocracy – by GLOBAL INSIDER

Guyana Political Crisis Result of Institutionalized Autocracy – GLOBAL INSIDER
Guyana President Donald Rabindranauth Ramotar addresses the general debate of the 69th session of the U.N. General Assembly, New York, Sept. 26, 2014 (U.N. photo by Amanda Voisard).
By The Editors, Dec. 9, 2014, Global Insider

Last month, Guyana was plunged into political crisis after President Donald Romatorsuspended parliament to avoid a no-confidence vote. In an email interview, George Danns, professor of sociology at the University of North Georgia, discussed Guyana’s domestic politics.

WPR: What is the background of the current political crisis in Guyana, and what impact is it having on the country’s economy and foreign relations?  
George Danns: The 2011 elections in Guyana gave the combined opposition parties the Alliance For Change (AFC) and A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) a one-seat majority in Parliament over the governing People’s Progressive Party (PPP), which won the executive presidency. Prior to the 1980 constitution, the president was a largely ceremonial position, but that document essentially conferred ultimate power to the presidency. This cohabitation since 2011 between the executive and the opposition-run Parliament set the stage for the current political crisis and confrontation with President Donald Ramotar’s regime.

The AFC accused the regime of unlawfully spending $4.5 billion over the past several years without the approval of Parliament. The minister of finance allegedly refused to account to Parliament on how the money was spent. This recalcitrance culminated in the opposition calling for a vote of no-confidence against the government. This motion would have passed, forcing the president to call for early national elections. On Nov. 10, Ramotar acted preemptively by using his constitutional powers to swiftly prorogue Parliament before the vote, thus throwing the country into a constitutional crisis.

His rationalization for doing so is that Parliament needed to pass “critically important” legislation, including the Anti-Money Laundering (AML) Amendment Bill and the Food Safety Bill. He said he was prepared to end the prorogation of Parliament if the opposition agrees to hold off the no-confidence vote for one month so Parliament could pass the legislation. The opposition has not only refused this offer, but also refuses to hold any negotiations with Ramotar despite his entreaties for them to do so.

WPR: How strong are democratic institutions in Guyana, and how accurate are claims that Ramotar is becoming a dictator?

Danns: Democratic institutions in Guyana are emergent, but still very weak. Just as Forbes Burnham, Guyana’s first post-colonial president, saw himself as ruling Guyana for life and beyond, the PPP sees itself ruling Guyana forever. Ramotar is a constitutional dictator. Guyana’s constitution gives the executive president power over the democratically elected parliament and all other state institutions. There are no checks and balances on the legal authority of the president, who cannot be prosecuted for anything he does while in office and even after he leaves it.

WPR: What will a resolution to the current impasse require, and what role can regional neighbors and international partners play?

Danns: The Commonwealth of Nations and the Organization of American States have reportedly been called upon to negotiate this impasse and end the crisis. Rather than end the prorogation of the Parliament and face the no-confidence vote against his parliamentary minority government, Ramotar has responded to this constitutional crisis by declaring that national and local elections will be held early next year, but without announcing a date. Ramotar expressed confidence that he and his party will be re-elected with a majority.

Ramotar draws his support from the majority East Indian populations that have traditionally supported the PPP. He is not a charismatic leader and seemingly does not enjoy the same loyalty from the Indian masses that previous Presidents Cheddi Jagan, Janet Jagan and Bharrat Jagdeo did. Further, the younger Guyanese population is not as wedded to the history of the PPP, though race will remain a determinant factor in electoral outcomes. These factors, along with high rates of unemployment, poverty and crime, as well as the widespread and open corruption of the regime exposed daily by the media, have given the political opposition the confidence that they can win national elections and end the tenure of Ramotar’s PPP regime.

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