Guyana Politics: CONSTITUTIONAL CHANGE MUST COME – by Dave Martins 

By: Dave Martins 

Stabroek News. – April 5, 2020  (Written more than two months ago)

Over one month ago on a very early morning at 6:00, I stood in line with my wife Annette and a host of other Guyanese to vote for a government of my choice. Today, over one month later, all of Guyana is still awaiting the completion of the counting of those votes and the instillation of a rightful Government of our choice.

Over one month now Guyana has been aware of the Global Covid19 Pandemic yet our politicians appear more focused on winning at any, or all, cost more than on the health of our citizens.           

Social media is awash with concerns from Guyanese of all stripes and their challenges getting through on the hastily assembled hotlines much less the promised testing by the healthcare professionals at the home of those with the critical symptoms. We have seen the posts of the former health worker in an infant mask even though his wife is a nurse at the Public Hospital, and his deep concern for her, and for his unborn child’s health, before he sadly passed away.

In the absence of a proactive national response however, we have also seen others stepping up to the plate to do the best they can. We have seen Demerara Distillers Limited repurposing their production to enable large quantities of sanitizers which were strategically donated to some of our most vulnerable such as orphanages and elderly homes and the Psalms. More recently, the Guyana Hindu Dharmic Sabha has initiated a mask-wearing campaign and is distributing same for free to the most vulnerable persons.

In addition, the Private Sector Commission (PSC) has been working hard behind the scenes over the past weeks, and I have seen my own wife, Annette, participating in daily COVID19 virtual meetings of the PSC to discuss and develop recommendations to cushion the economic, social and even health impacts of the virus. Comprehensive PSC recommendations for economic measures were submitted to both the Ministries of Finance and Business, and a Covid19 Response Fund was established.

In addition, a public service awareness campaign has commenced on the importance of wearing masks. Beyond that, It should be noted that the National Task Force had invited the PSC in mid-March to participate in its efforts, and the PSC has subsequently called for there to be more inclusivity and for the private hospitals and laboratories to be engaged due to the urgent need for more testing and expansion of personal protective equipment and respirators.

Guyana is currently under significant threat from this world-wide pandemic which has infected thousands and the foregoing information is therefore very relevant to this cause, but to step back and look at the wider picture facing us is to see that there is also a critical political need for us to modify our constitution to eliminate the existing “winner take all” aspect of this document that dictates our political lives at present. A carry over from the colonial days, when Britain ruled and we had a two-party system, the constitution that came to us at independence has been criticized by successive governments, for that two-party domination among smaller parties. Intimations to change it have been made, but the system remains.

The experience of our recent elections demonstrate again the importance of this alteration being made. Unless we amend the constitution to remove the “first past the post” aspect of our election process, each ensuing election in Guyana will only see more clashes and political turmoil between the two major parties – APNU and the PPP. We must remove this impediment to power-sharing among our political groups which remains a cloud hanging over us every time a national election takes place. We must therefore transparently count the number of our citizens votes, leading to the declaration of the winning party, and have it get to work on whatever constitutional changes are necessary to ensure that all Guyanese become stakeholders in the future of our country, as it should have been since the 1950s.

Under the present constitution, a national election in Guyana is an occasion for rancour and racial divides that tear the country apart. It is a condition that engulfs us every five years, stemming from the “winner take all” aspect of the existing document. Promises have been made by the two major parties, at various times, to make the change, but that remains the state of affairs, only promises.

Private groups and individual citizens must make it publicly clear that this promised constitutional remedy can no longer be postponed. We must make it manifest to whichever party forms our next government that the change must be one of the first orders of its business. It is a defect that becomes a destructive force in our national elections as the smaller parties are swept aside each election time with only the “Big Two” realistically being candidates for forming the government.

So let us transparently count the votes, and declare a winning party with the declared election platform commitment to get to work on whatever constitutional changes are necessary to make sure that ALL Guyanese, not just the two big parties, become stakeholders in the future in the country, as it should have been since the 1950s. If we keep going to the same well unchanged every time, with that unchanged constitution in place, we will continue to find strife and animosity and even violence as we vote for the new government of Guyana. The evidence is before us. We have seen this turmoil erupt several times, and we are seeing it again now.

Whatever party colours we wear, whichever leaders we endorse, we must stress this point with them. In a country as diverse as ours, with our ethic components and with the spread of organized political parties, a constitution with the “winner takes all” formula is a formula for turmoil. We have seen the evidence before and we’re seeing it again now. Among our astute political observers, several of them have raised this issue and with Guyana poised for bigger things, we must effect the constitutional revision. It is a change long overdue.

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  • kamtanblog  On 06/19/2020 at 2:25 am

    Constitutional reformation will only “divide”
    not “unite”.
    Did religious reformation not divide our world
    religiously…King v Pope !

    A bit of history reminder…
    King Charles 1st claimed his power came from
    “Guy in sky” GOD
    Cromwell (politician) claimed his power came
    from people.
    The king lost his head “literally”

    Will Supreme Court now play God ?

    Parliament makes laws on behalf of the people
    (Elected) …the courts (unelected) institute/interpret/implement those laws.

    An unwritten constitution is way forward.

    My two cents

    Kamtan UK/Spain

  • mudhead2  On 06/19/2020 at 6:45 am

    That is in the hands of the people of Guyana as only they have the power to change things by their vote

    • kamtanblog  On 06/19/2020 at 12:22 pm

      650.000 of them ?

      Corruption at the highest/lowest level !

      Guyana 🇬🇾 another “failed state” …
      53rd after Puerto Rico or Hawaii ?


    • Kman  On 06/19/2020 at 1:42 pm

      But if their vote is deemed as bogus by any party, then how will their voices be heard.
      Seems like Guyana needs outside parties to conduct their elections.

  • Linda  On 06/19/2020 at 10:53 am

    Excellent article by David Martins. I agree that there must be Constitutional change if fair elections are to be held. He has touched on all points necessary to make change for the better in Guyana.

    • kamtanblog  On 06/19/2020 at 12:27 pm

      Really !
      Will it happen or Parliament becomes another
      “Talk shop” ?
      Good laws are enforced/enforceable !
      Bad laws made by jackasses elected
      by donkies.

  • Veda Nath Mohabir  On 06/19/2020 at 2:45 pm

    Mr Martins wrote this 2 ½ mos ago. He calls for a transparent vote count and constitutional change. Unfortunately, he didn’t say what this change should be. He also keeps saying we have a ’winner takes all’’ system. What other system has he in mind?

    Also, Proportional Representation electoral system was imposed on Guyana for the 1964 elections, so that Jagan’s PPP will not win (under a ‘First Past the Post’ system, argued as most likely to give Guyana a PPP ‘winner takes all’); and this ushered in a PNC+UF coalition, which should have pleased Mr. Martins. But, soon after, Mr. Burnham-PNC ditched the UF and then went on to rule by rigging every election until 1992.
    He also talks about needing a ‘transparent vote count’. But a transparent vote, we just had – and was endorsed by ALL non-APNU+AFC observers) – yet Guyana is still left without a voted–in government!

    According to Kaieteur News (Jun 19) just yesterday APNU+AFC supporters protested in Berbice, Linden and GT “the GECOM Chairman’s [the boss’] decision to order the Chief Elections Officer (CEO), Keith Lowenfield, to prepare his final report on the March 2, 2020 elections using the figures from the national recount”. (As mentioned above, these recount results were endorsed by ALL accredited local and foreign observers, other than APNU+AFC but are deemed bogus by APNU+AFC)

    Therefore, could Mr. Martins please write a follow up article to address the issues and provide us a solution?

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