Guyana Election: The constitutionality of a coalition government in Guyana

NEW YORK, USA, Aug. 30, 2006 – As the tallying of votes continued in Guyana yesterday, showing the ruling Peoples Progressive Party with a slim lead following the poll of August 28th, opinions continued to differ on whether the Guyana constitution allows for a coalition government in the post-election period of the country.

Rickford Burke, president of the Caribbean Guyana Institute for Democracy, is adamant that it does, yesterday citing various aspects of the law which he claims proves that “no provision in the Guyana constitution … precludes a coalition government.”

Burke, in a statement, argued, “If the elections in Guyana creates a circumstance where the party that wins the presidency does not win a majority of seats in the National Assembly (parliament), then the President will have to arrive at a modus vivindi with one or more parties, to include elected members of the National Assembly from another party or parties, in the cabinet, in order to have a functioning government.”

“Such a mechanism will be a coalition,” said Burke, adding, “This would be good for the country.”

Arizona State professor and political scientist, Dr. David Hinds, agrees, telling HBN last night, “The constitution does not prevent a coalition government.”

“Any party that has the most votes/parliamentary seats can choose to form a coalition government with another party. That is not a violation of the constitution,” the Guyanese-born Hinds added, but noted that the cache is that “at present the constitution does not mandate such a government.”

“The wining party does it of its own free will. (We who favor a power sharing government want it to be put in the constitution that whatever the final vote/seat tally, all parties that win seats must be proportionally represented in the executive/cabinet),” stated the Working Peoples Alliance executive member.

And he further explained, “At present the constitution allows the President to form a one-party (minority) government even if his/her party has lees that 50 percent of the parliamentary seats. So that the President holds on to executive power, but bargains with the other parties to get laws passed. In such a situation the other parties would then influence the passage of laws, but not the execution of policies. This would not change much as the nerve center of power is the cabinet/executive.”

But retired political science professor, Festus L. Brotherson, Jr., says the conclusion that the law allows for a coalition government after any general election in Guyana is incorrect.

“The very complicated nature of process to allocate seats according to proportional representation on three levels – presidency, national assembly and regional democratic councils – negates clearly the possibility of coalition government,” Brotherson said last night. “The obligatory mathematical calibration of a number of facts including gender and vote distribution is also testament to that fact.”

And he added, “That is to say, no party can come to a formal agreement with another to form the government. The parties have to remain separate. Only the party with the highest number of seats will form the government. They cannot unite to form a new permanent entity for governing the country.”

The argument is also supported by WPA member, Tacuma Ogunseye. In a recent letter to the Guyana Stabroek Newspaper, Ogunseye stated, “…the Constitution of Guyana does not allow for contesting parties to coalesce to form a government after an election like what has happened in some Caribbean countries, and as was done in Guyana in 1964 when the PNC and the UF entered into a coalition arrangement to prevent the PPP from forming the government.”

And he added, “According to our constitution the party which gets one vote more than the next largest wins a plurality and gets the Presidency and the government. This is why our political system is called the winner take all system.”

Meanwhile, President Bharrat Jagdeo for his part has stressed there would be no coalition or power-sharing and is predicting an outright win for his party. Last night, the preliminary count show the party leading with 88,063 votes with votes from just 884 of the 1,999 polling places counted to date.

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