‘MINORITY’ is probably a fashionable word in Guyana’s politics today. And if that word has not as yet reached the catwalk, keep tuned in.
It is true that Guyana has a minority government, but one born out of positively-formed constitutional rules, where winning does not require it to have an absolute majority in parliament. This is the case with minority governments in most parliamentary democracies.
Undoubtedly, the minority government in Guyana represents a huge challenge to the entire nation. And while many of these challenges are useful and healthy in the pursuit of real change, there are those challenges that have roots in misconceptions and myths. Some misunderstandings include these, among others: Parliament governs the country; the government would be unable to govern; opposition parliamentarians can cross the floor to create a majority government; the ruling party’s parliamentarians can cross the floor to generate a stronger opposition; parliament can interfere with any agency, willy-nilly; people do not seem to know who constitutes government, opposition, and parliament.
The doctrine of ‘separation of powers’, at least in theory, is a useful starting point to explain the functioning of a democratic political structure, and perhaps, address these misconceptions.
| ‘…the thrusting of a minority government on the political structure for the first time in Guyana’s history has brought in its wake a situation of political disequilibria or imbalance, enabling greater adrenalin flows and an excessive enthusiasm and intense devotion toward eclipsing/usurping political responsibilities from the other entities; in the end, an unfortunate but likely possibility could be placing the separation of powers’ doctrine in disarray’
John Locke in his Civil Government(1690), Second Treatise, presented only legislative and executive powers; it was Montesquieu in his De l’Esprit des Lois in 1748 who added the judicial powers. Montesquieu understood that a country’s freedom is predicated on a separation of the legislative, executive, and judicial functions.
Again, in theory, the People’s Progressive Party/ Civic (PPP/C) government effects the executive function, parliament (government and opposition members) executes the legislative function, and the court system performs the judicial function. In practice, there are overlaps and checks on each system’s functions, but each system within the political structure essentially functions on the basis of the separation of powers’ doctrine.
Nevertheless, the thrusting of a minority government on the political structure for the first time in Guyana’s history has brought in its wake a situation of political disequilibria or imbalance, enabling greater adrenalin flows and an excessive enthusiasm and intense devotion toward eclipsing/usurping political responsibilities from the other entities; in the end, an unfortunate but likely possibility could be placing the separation of powers’ doctrine in disarray.
The situation of disequilibria is conducive to playing hardball or the zero sum power game. And the political hardball season is now upon the Guyanese people. The opposition forces have begun to flex their muscles through a number of parliamentary matters as: the elections of Speaker and Deputy Speaker from the opposition forces; the selection committee composition which matter is now in court, and the opposition parliament’s non-approval of Financial Papers # 7 & # 8 (#8 now approved).
The latter prompted Minister of Finance, Dr. Ashni Singh to say:
“What we witnessed today was the coming together of the APNU and the AFC to withhold parliamentary imprimatur being granted to expenditure that was incurred from the contingencies fund in accordance with the law…this expenditure was incurred in the interest of providing goods and services to the people of Guyana.” This statement is a response to the Opposition’s hardball.
In this novel political dispensation, the majority opposition is wielding ‘hard power’ to the fullest to realize its ends. Gallarotti’s book ‘The power Curse: Influence and Illusion in World politics’ notes that because people do not understand that brandishing hard power could result in negative consequences, they present measures that weaken their goals, diminish their soft power and influence, and damage critical national wellbeing.
In the current political climate, excessive exercise of hard power will produce this state of affairs; and the application of power in this way is what Gallarotti refers to as the ‘power curse’.
This power curse, if sustained, could produce a do-nothing parliament. At any rate, the majority Opposition is doing what it thinks is right, and the PPP/C government must do likewise. And while the power curse is being invoked, the PPP/C Administration has to focus on re-crafting its legislative agenda and strategy toward conspicuously meeting the interests and needs of the people, and to work out the timeliness and manner in which to engage in constructive action strategies.
There would be room for compromises, but excessive compromises could be signs of pathetic legislation and a precursor to poor governance. In the end, the people of Guyana will have to decide whether they want the power curse or the good life. When the political structure meets the needs and interests of the poor and vulnerable, the power curse will lose its sting.