Healing Guyana’s Ethnic Wounds: The Case for Power Sharing
By Dr. David Hinds
Power Sharing as a possible solution to Guyana’s ongoing ethno-political problems has resurfaced as part of the political discourse. Understandably the parties and supporters which feel that they have won the March 2 election are in no mood to discuss this idea. In that regard it may have once again become victim of the persistent lure of one-party rule. Then there are the younger generations which have little or not political context for locating power sharing. So, they approach it as an abstraction and invariably raise questions about its suitability. Despite the above I remain steadfast in my conviction that executive power sharing is the best short-term solution to Guyana’s clear and present political problems. It is for that reason that I intend to dedicate some of my columns in the coming weeks to this issue. I begin today with what I think are the foremost benefits of the model of governance.
Perhaps the foremost benefit of power-sharing is its potential for ensuring that no ethnic group dominates the other politically and by extension culturally and economically. In Guyana, the executive branch has evolved as the engine of government with the other two branches serving for the most part in a supplementary manner. One can argue with much justification that there has been an executive supremacy that borders on executive tyranny. The party which wins the election gets a majority in the parliament, which then gives it automatic control of the executive branch. This guarantees the governing party enormous power, which in a situation of ethnic conflict is an unfair advantage that eventually leads to authoritarianism or democratic exclusion as exclusionary domination. With the built-in parliamentary majority, government bills are guaranteed passage unless there is a revolt among government parliamentarians, which has never occurred in Guyana.
However, with both parties in the cabinet the fear of the power of the executive by the minority would be greatly diminished. Since ethnic insecurity is premised on the fear of domination, institutional assurances of security will most likely lead to a decrease in the intensity of this fear. Because the executive branch of the government has a monopoly on decision-making within the Guyanese state, it has become the symbol of domination along class, gender, and ethnic lines. Given the fact that ethnicity has greatly influenced political behavior in Guyana since 1955, control of the government is seen largely, though not exclusively, in ethnic terms. The power of the state in determining economic policy and distributing resources places it in an extremely powerful position. In an economy in which the state is the largest employer and the private sector is relatively small, the power of the executive is enhanced.
This leads me to a second benefit of power sharing–the enlarging of multiethnic space. The creation of multiethnic space in ethnically polarized societies is directly linked to ethnic security. When ethnic insecurity is high multiethnic space contracts and when it decreases multi-ethnic space grows. The significant achievement of Walter Rodney and the WPA was their success in increasing multiethnic space by encouraging a power-sharing arrangement in the opposition at three levels–between the WPA and the PPP, among all political parties regardless of ideological leanings and between the political parties and labor, religious and other professional organizations. These power- sharing arrangements created spaces for ethnic solidarity among workers, between ethnic communities and between the working classes and professionals.
The third benefit of power-sharing is its potential for the enhancement of democratization within the government. One of the problems of governance in the Caribbean, despite its general adherence to the tenets of formal democracy is the concomitant monopoly of power by the ruling party and the exclusion of the opposition. This democratic exclusion has led to virtual a one-party democracy, which has had negative consequences for the rule of law, respect for civil liberties, government accountability, economic management and development, political instability, and national sovereignty. In ethnically polarized societies democratic exclusion and one- party democracy often mean ethnic exclusion and domination. The ruling party’s obsession with remaining in power to protect the “race” leads to it being unaccountable to either its constituency or that of the opposing parties. Further, the guaranteed ethnic support regardless of the quality of governance makes the government more likely to overreach. On the other hand, opposition perception and reality of marginalization drives it to extra-parliamentary tactics, which are then crushed by the government in the name of law and order.
A fourth benefit of power sharing is that it brings the opposition off the streets into the formal councils of government thus denying the government the excuse that it is under siege and the opposition of charges that its supporters are ethnically marginalized. With both groups in the executive branch, majoritarianism gives way to a more consensus form of democracy. But increased democracy within the executive branch will not enhance democracy if it is not supplemented by democratization of other branches and between the central government and local government. While power sharing in the executive does not automatically lead to democratization of the other two branches, it stands a better chance of facilitating this.
More of Dr. Hinds’ writings and commentaries can be found on his website www.guyanacaribbeanpolitics.news. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org