GUYANA: A New Year’s Resolution for Guyana’s Politicians: – Letter by Andre Brandli

Hasn’t the time come for a new political culture of reconciliation and compromise or will this remain a fantasy forever?

As a Guyanese of the Diaspora living in Switzerland and Germany, I have been following Guyanese politics closely for the last few years. What has struck me most is the uncompromising nature of politics in my mother’s homeland.

There is the absence of a political culture of seeking solutions to the nation’s key problems by genuine consultation, assessing the positions of the key stakeholders, and finding compromises that tie in also the parties in the opposition.               

In Switzerland, the political culture is very different despite the fact that the country is multi-ethnic and dominated by a fierce political discourse. It took a brief civil war in 1848 to sweep away the old order of the Swiss Confederation of independent cantons and creates the modern Swiss Federal State.

As a result, Switzerland became the first republic in Europe. The new nation was organized as a federal state with a constitution modelled along the lines of constitution of the only other republic of the time, the United States of America. As a result, Switzerland got a central government, a two-chamber national parliament, and a federal judiciary. The cantons and their communities preserved extensive local autonomy including self-government, the right to raise taxes and to allocate funds according to the local needs.

The concepts of direct democracy were subsequently developed and introduced. It meant, for example, that any law passed by the national parliament could be challenged by a national referendum. This simple mechanism forced the main parties in parliament to find solutions for the country’s pressing problems by seeking compromise and reconciliation in a manner that reflects the wishes of the majority of the cantons and the population.

Failure to do so was likely to result in defeat at the ballot box. The mechanisms of compromise finding enshrined in the Swiss constitution of 1848 transformed Switzerland into one of the most stable democracies in the world and laid the foundations for its rise from a poor agricultural state lacking natural resources to a modern industrial nation providing education, health care, social security, economic opportunities, and prosperity to the broad population.

The political culture of Switzerland is illustrated nicely by a recent event that took place in the Swiss national parliament. The seven-person Federal Council, which is the executive body governing Switzerland, had seen the resignation of two of its members, Simonetta Sommaruga representing the leftist Social Democratic Party and Ueli Maurer of the national conservative Swiss Peoples Party. On December 7, 2022, Federal Councillor Simonetta Sommaruga, showed us how reconciliation works. In her farewell speech on the floor of the Swiss parliament, she addressed her political opponent, Ueli Maurer, directly.

“Who would have thought that one day we would resign on the same day! In any case, it was not agreed. If we had tried that, it probably wouldn’t have worked. Because you can hardly be much more different than the two of us in the Federal Council,” she said. And she emphasized the – perhaps only – thing the two had in common: the job of seeking solutions – “even with people from whom one is politically far removed, in the Federal Council and in Parliament. Because viable solutions are possible “if we move toward each other.”

She continued: “Concordance requires respect and trust. It only works if you can count on the other party to move, that you are not the only one offering a hand for solutions. And that you will stand up for the compromise you have found and not duck away.”

Reconciliation, as the outgoing Federal Councillor Simonetta Sommaruga teaches us, requires a willingness to compromise, respect, trust and sincerity. And the awareness that there is something bigger at stake than one’s own sensitivities if one wants to get ahead.

What will it take for the dominant political forces in Guyana, the PPP and APNU+AFC, to abandon their policy of obstruction and marginalization for one of cooperation, reconciliation, and compromise finding for the better good of Guyana?

Will the people of Guyana have to wait for political leaders of the calibre of Nelson Mandela to emerge for such change to happen? I am advocating here that we cannot wait any longer and the time has come for the current political leaders to adopt a new political culture of reconciliation, compromise and mutual respect as part of their New Year’s resolutions for 2023.

This should be followed by a process of extensive constitutional reforms enshrining this new political culture in the nation’s institutions at the executive, legislative, and judicial levels and empowering the Guyanese people with tools of direct democracy.

I hope that this vision will not remain a mere fantasy.

Sincerely,

Andre Brandli, PhD

Professor, LMU Munich

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Comments

  • Age  On 01/02/2023 at 12:39 am

    Happy new year Dr. Andre Brandli.

    Looks like you’re testing the waters of Guyana’s dismal political scenery?

    That chap Freddy Kissoon might write another article about you.

    There is something wrong after I started reading inflammatory diatribes from journalists and politicians regarding the diaspora, I just shrugged and said to myself let it be. Guyana will never develop like Singapore, much less Trinidad with their lopsided oil contract and terrible political fighting.

  • wally  On 01/02/2023 at 12:41 pm

    Many politicians get elected based on promises. Guyana now has real problems, since there is a possibility that the “promises” can be backed up with real cash, much harder to change the minds of people waiting so long for any form of improvement.The average Guyanese sees, reads of the progress, but as yet not really experienced any form, this can become a serious problem
    Reasonable people usually listen to sources that promise a better way to the Status quo, and I think the Doc. deserves a listen, different times, Guyana is in a good place, with all the potential being recognized, the old system is obviously not working, old elephant of racism seeping in, suspicion rampant, maybe a change in the direction, before it is too late.

  • Jim  On 01/02/2023 at 10:00 pm

    Dr. Brandli I wholeheartedly agree that unless there is national unity and inclusiveness, the majority of citizens will be left behind in the oil and gas rush.

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