Khemraj Ramjattan's attempt at advancing a solution
to Guyana's racial problem, in particular the struggle over political
power, is most revealing.(Stabroek News: August 28, 2004). Mr.
Ramjattan must be taken seriously because he is being put forward
as an example of what the new Guyanese political leader should
be. He is said to be in the PPP but not of the PPP, so it is assumed
that his view of the world transcends the PPP. Yet his view on
how to solve the "democratic dilemma" that results from
the fact that in Guyana's racial circumstances African Guyanese
are potentially shut out from political power, is hardly an advance
on the PPP's.
To his credit, Ramjattan admits that in the Guyanese
scenario of "one man one vote is thus undemocratic…
it leads to an elective or a majoritarian dictatorship."
He then wonders: "How strange!" Well, there is nothing
strange in the formulation Mr. Ramjattan describes. What saves
majoritarianism from becoming a permanent form of dictatorship
in some countries are the absence of permanent, hardened majorities
and the presence of potent constitutional and informal checks
and balances within the system. Majoritarianism is a dictatorship
in Guyana because of the presence of a permanent, hardened majority
and the absence of potent constitutional and informal checks and
balances within the system.
What is strange is that Ramjattan plays down
constitutional checks and balances as a way to solve the problem.
Constitutional checks and balances is precisely what the various
forms of power sharing advocate. Like the PPP, Ramjattan rejects
power sharing on the grounds of trust and lack of opposition.
I suppose one can make that case and other similar cases against
power sharing in an abstract sense. But the problem Mr. Ramjattan
observes - Africans being permanently shut out of power - is not
an abstraction. It is a concrete phenomenon that has concrete
consequences for the security and ultimate survival of the nation.
While the search for solutions to concrete problems must include
some degree of abstract theorizing, that by itself could lead
to faulty conclusion.
It is precisely the lack of trust that has largely
undermined the Westminster majoritarian system in Guyana. Indians
and Africans do not trust the party of the other race to represent
their interests and to rule fairly. So what is needed is a governance
formula that both groups and their respective parties can trust.
Nowhere in the world would you find two competing parties that
trust each other, but in most countries there are forms of governance
that all parties generally trust. This is part of what power sharing
advances: both groups would be assured of permanent inclusion
instead of one being permanently excluded.
On the question of lack of opposition, Mr. Ramjattan
seems to have given very little thought to the subject in much
the same way as President Jagdeo who talks glibly about term "gridlock."
Again, I have to invoke the concrete. If opposition means attacks
on people and their property because of their race, boycott of
parliament, opposition to everything the government does, disruption
of life and production and generally undermining the government,
then let's get rid of opposition as quickly as possible. That
kind of opposition has not made the government accountable; in
fact it has contributed to the government being almost totally
unaccountable. But to get rid of that opposition you have to get
rid of the governance system that feeds it. So in changing "the
undemocratic elective dictatorship" you are also changing
the opposition it spawned. One can never get rid of opposition
in a broad sense, that is part of the political instinct, but
opposition in different circumstances leads to different outcomes.
What is important is the climate in which opposition occurs.
In a power sharing arrangement you are bringing
hitherto destructive opposition from the streets and other informal
settings into the formal structures. In effect the opposition
is being transformed rather than eradicated. All parties are simultaneously
government and opposition. The parties in government are forced
to battle over policies within the halls of governance, side by
side rather that shouting across the hall at each other. Thus
opposition is transformed into a springboard for consensus rather
If the opposite of gridlock is the use of unfettered
power to impose policies and laws on a nation without regard to
the input of other forces in the society, then let gridlock live.
If gridlock means subjecting policies and laws to more thorough
scrutiny than presently obtains than gridlock is urgently needed.
All governance systems have gridlock built into them, but someone
or some party has to activate that gridlock. The US government
for example, is perhaps the most gridlocked in the world but it
works precisely because the threat of activating the gridlock
has more often than not led to consensus between the parties.
It is better to have gridlock caused by disagreement inside the
government rather than between a permanent government and a permanent
I submit that Guyana cannot be more gridlocked
than it is now. Both President Jagdeo and Mr. Corbin admit this.
But as they have done on the question of trust, the PPP are mistaking
the consequences of the problem (gridlock and trust) for the cause.
The cause of gridlock and lack of trust in Guyana's politics is
the persistent struggle over who controls [Executive] power.
The political parties in Guyana do not differ
much on the basic needs of the county, and ideological differences
are almost non-existence. They however differ on the particulars
of policy and the methods of execution in the same way that individuals
and factions within the parties differ. This is healthy, for it
opens up discussion and examination and subjects the policy or
law to a more diverse group of eyes, ears and minds. Unless faced
with urgent security or other emergency matters, there is no need
to rush things. The threat of gridlock is good for countries like
Guyana for it forces the players to be mindful of other views,
something that has been absent from the political culture.
Now to Mr. Ramjattan's solution to the ethnic
problem. He recommends the democratization of political parties
as the answer to the problem. His reasoning is that in democratic
parties moderates who would not appeal to race would come to the
fore, and "hardliners and extremists…get pruned in
such a process". At first glance this looks attractive and
makes a lot of sense. But that is where the attraction stops.
Political parties are voluntary organizations whose internal operations
cannot be directly determined by the state or other outside forces.
Their democratization has to respond to a need or incentive to
do so. The more democratic the structures of governance, the state
and the political culture, the more likely the parties will democratize.
But the flaw in Ramjattan's argument is that he wrongly assumes
that democratic processes do not throw up extremists. In fact
in conditions of racial insecurity and rivalry, the more democratic
the situation, the more hardliners and extremists are likely to
come to power. Democratization of political parties cannot be
divorced from the concrete conditions in which they operate.
But Mr. Ramjattan does something else. He identifies
the sources of African Guyanese ethnic insecurity as "the
shutting out from power" and an "elective or majoritarian
dictatorship". Put another way, from the African Guyanese
standpoint, they are shut out from power, which is controlled
by an Indian dictatorship. Mr. Ramjattan knows about the reasonable
and unreasonable African Guyanese responses to this condition,
yet in this volatile situation he tells Africans to wait until
the PNC and PPP democratize themselves before they (African Guyanese)
can get power. And he tells Indians to wait until the PPP and
PNC democratize themselves for them (Indian Guyanese) to stop
being vulnerable to the deadly consequences of the "elective
[Editor's Note: All credit to Dr. Hinds and the
guyanacaribbeanpolitics.com website where this article was extracted