Guyana - in three examples
November 9, 2003
GUYANA has experiences to share on three issues of importance currently engaging some political controversies within the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), and in Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago in particular.
These relate to the electoral system of Proportional Representation (PR), the use of proxy voting by overseas-based nationals, and dangers to be avoided in ensuring an independent judiciary.
To deal with the latter first: Guyana's commitment to the creation, as soon as possible, of the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) cuts across political boundaries with, hopefully, a shared commitment to ensure an independent and efficient judiciary.
Guyana has long scuttled the Privy Council in London that remains the final appellate court for all other member states of CARICOM. But those who take pride in what is being expediently rationalised as a visionary initiative, must also be prepared to reflect on the gross abuse of state power at a time when the Guyana Court of Appeal emerged as the country's final appellate institution.
In that dispensation of "party paramountcy", the flag of the then governing People's National Congress was permitted alongside the Golden Arrowhead atop the building of this nation’s highest court amid ongoing controversies about political erosion of the judicial system. It was then pointless, for instance, to challenge electoral fraud in the courts.
We have come a very far way from such a dreaded path; and there are encouraging signals of commitment to ensure high standards in judicial performance as Guyana, in unison, seeks to embrace the CCJ as its final appellate court. The hope is that the political divisions that exist elsewhere in the Community can soon be overcome for the CCJ to be a functioning reality.
On the related issues of suggested proxy voting by overseas-based nationals, and objection to the electoral system of proportional representation -- being debated, respectively, in Trinidad and Tobago and Jamaica -- there are also experiences to be learnt in Guyana.
PR and proxy voting
The Jamaica Labour Party of Mr. Edward Seaga, in objecting to an expressed intention of the governing People's National Party of Prime Minister P. J. Patterson to allow Jamaicans living abroad to vote by proxy at national elections, has raised a number of questions:
For instance, asked Seaga, how are such nationals to be enumerated and in what constituencies will their proxy votes be placed?
Under the PR electoral system, with the entire country as a single constituency, but divided in a number of regions, as is the Guyana experience, proxy voting by overseas nationals would be no problem, provided, of course, there is independent conduct of elections to ensure scrupulous honesty.
In the Guyana experience of a long period in crooked elections, with the misuse of proxy, postal and overseas voting as a norm, questions being raised by the Jamaican opposition, would have been irrelevant, especially with “Elections Commission" under the control of a then governing party.
But with the passage of time, the end of the doctrine of "party paramountcy", cleansing of the stable of institutionalised electoral fraud, and the return to a functioning system of multi-party democracy in Guyana, the PR system has not resulted in the fears of deep-rooted racial polarisation and political fragmentation now being cited in Trinidad and Tobago for rejecting it as an alternative system to the current so-called "winner-takes-all” model.
Perhaps the political parties, in and out of government in Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago, could, if they so desire, examine the weaknesses and strengths of the electoral system in Guyana, as they existed with the introduction of PR, and how elections were rigged and electoral democracy returned.
And, of course, researchers may have much to harvest in rigorously examining the circumstances of Guyana severing ties with the Privy Council, followed by the functioning of a judiciary under the officially-enunciated policy of "party paramountcy", and comparing what currently prevails.