Post-elec­tions coali­tions and the elec­tion of the pres­i­dent

Stabroek News Sunday - - LETTERS -

Much dis­cus­sion and de­bate has oc­curred since the elec­tions of 2011 in re­la­tion to post-elec­tions coali­tions in Guyana. This de­bate ad­vanced the false no­tion that our con­sti­tu­tion pro­hibits such coali­tions. This is ab­so­lutely un­true. There is no law or con­sti­tu­tional pro­vi­sion that pre­vented Pres­i­dent Ramo­tar in 2011, when the PPP/C lost its ab­so­lute ma­jor­ity and ob­tained a plu­ral­ity, from invit­ing the AFC or APNU, or both, to join his gov­ern­ment by of­fer­ing a pro­por­tion­ate share of min­istries. Pres­i­dent Ramo­tar chose not to do so, pre­fer­ring to head a mi­nor­ity gov­ern­ment, which was bound to fail, as it even­tu­ally did. The re­sult of the elec­tions of 2011, which ex­posed some dis­af­fec­tion of In­dian sup­port for the PPP, the PPP’s adamant hos­til­ity to a post-elec­tion coali­tion, its fear of the elec­torate by re­fus­ing to hold lo­cal gov­ern­ment elec­tions which would have in­duced the AFC to with­draw its no con­fi­dence mo­tion and the woe­ful lack of vi­sion of the PPP/C in the cam­paign and in gov­ern­ment, cre­ated the con­di­tions for a pre-elec­tions coali­tion be­tween the APNU and AFC.

It was nec­es­sary for the APNU+AFC to have a pre­elec­tions coali­tion and con­test the elec­tions on a joint list of can­di­dates in or­der to reg­u­late their re­la­tions and be­cause the PPP/C was ex­pected to win at least the plu­ral­ity. They needed to get at least a plu­ral­ity for David Granger and not Don­ald Ramo­tar to be­come the Pres­i­dent. As it turned out, APNU+AFC won a bare ma­jor­ity.

What is pro­hib­ited by the con­sti­tu­tion is a post-elec­tion ne­go­ti­a­tion for the Pres­i­dency. Elec­tions are con­ducted in Guyana by lists. A voter votes for a list of can­di­dates, not an in­di­vid­ual. Each list must des­ig­nate a per­son to be its Pres­i­den­tial Can­di­date. The Pres­i­den­tial Can­di­date named in the list that ob­tains the high­est num­ber of votes be­comes the Pres­i­dent. The list does not have to ob­tain an ab­so­lute ma­jor­ity of votes. A plu­ral­ity of votes dic­tates the choice. This le­gal po­si­tion is re­flected in sev­eral ar­ti­cles of the con­sti­tu­tion. Ar­ti­cle 177(1) states “any list of can­di­dates for an elec­tion… .shall des­ig­nate not more than one of those can­di­dates as a Pres­i­den­tial can­di­date.” Ar­ti­cle 177(2)(b) states that where “there are two or more Pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates, if more votes are cast in favour of the list in which a per­son is des­ig­nated as a Pres­i­den­tial can­di­date than in favour of any other list, that Pres­i­den­tial can­di­date shall be deemed to be elected as Pres­i­dent….” No ab­so­lute ma­jor­ity is pre­scribed.

The APNU+AFC man­i­festo pro­pos­als do not al­ter the man­ner of elec­toral choice of Pres­i­dent at elec­tions. These pro­pos­als in­clude the choice of Pres­i­dent at Pres­i­den­tial Elec­tions sep­a­rate from par­lia­men­tary elec­tions, with the per­son ob­tain­ing the sec­ond largest num­ber of votes be­com­ing the Prime Min­is­ter.

The crit­i­cisms of our con­sti­tu­tion be­cause it did not pro­vide for post-elec­tions coali­tions re­flected some sup­port for a choice of Pres­i­dent af­ter the elec­tions. This can only be done by the Na­tional As­sem­bly, con­sti­tuted af­ter the elec­tions. Apart for Guyana, the only other Cari­com mem­ber that has an ex­ec­u­tive Pres­i­dent is Suri­name and the Suri­name Pres­i­dent is elected by the Na­tional As­sem­bly af­ter the elec­tions. Ar­ti­cle 74 of the Suri­name con­sti­tu­tion pro­vides that “The Na­tional As­sem­bly has the fol­low­ing tasks: (a) elect­ing the Pres­i­dent and Vice-Pres­i­dent and de­cid­ing on their pre­ma­ture res­ig­na­tion.” The Suri­name con­sti­tu­tion also pro­vides at Ar­ti­cle 83(3) that “A ma­jor­ity of at least twothirds of the con­sti­tu­tional num­ber of mem­bers of the Na­tional As­sem­bly shall be re­quired for de­ci­sions con­cern­ing….(c) the elec­tion of the Pres­i­dent; (d) the elec­tion of the Vice-Pres­i­dent.”

By Ar­ti­cle 181, the Peo­ple’s As­sem­bly, com­pris­ing the Na­tional As­sem­bly, the Dis­trict As­sem­bly and the Lo­cal Coun­cils shall be re­spon­si­ble for, among other

things, elect­ing by ma­jor­ity vote the “Pres­i­dent and Vice-Pres­i­dent in case none of the can­di­dates has ob­tained the con­sti­tu­tional ma­jor­ity af­ter two rounds of vot­ing in the Na­tional As­sem­bly.” Many other coun­tries pro­vide for the elec­tion of the ex­ec­u­tive pres­i­dent by their par­lia­ments util­is­ing vary­ing meth­ods.

De­spite the de­bate on this is­sue in 2011, it is not known whether the Guyanese elec­torate will want to give up its di­rect right to the Na­tional As­sem­bly to se­lect the head of its gov­ern­ment. If in the fu­ture Guyana re­turns to a full par­lia­men­tary sys­tem where the Prime Min­is­ter is the head of gov­ern­ment, the elec­torate might agree for a cer­e­mo­nial Pres­i­dent to be elected by the Na­tional As­sem­bly.

The ef­fect of the cum­ber­some Suri­name sys­tem is that, in ef­fect, at least ini­tially, the elec­tion of the Pres­i­dent re­quires the sup­port of two-thirds of the mem­bers of the Na­tional As­sem­bly which means, in ef­fect, two-thirds of the elec­torate. This of­ten cre­ates grid­lock in Suri­name be­cause a can­di­date is un­able to se­cure the sup­port of such a large num­ber of mem­bers. The con­se­quence is that much po­lit­i­cal horse-trad­ing, some­times un­palat­able, has to take place be­fore a Pres­i­dent and Vice-Pres­i­dent can emerge. In Guyana, a Pres­i­dent and gov­ern­ment can be re­moved by a mo­tion of no con­fi­dence, which re­quires only a ma­jor­ity vote. If Guyana even­tu­ally goes the way of Suri­name by giv­ing the Na­tional As­sem­bly the power to choose the Pres­i­dent, a sim­ple ma­jor­ity vote in the Na­tional As­sem­bly will avoid grid­lock. This col­umn is re­pro­duced, with per­mis­sion, from Ralph Ramkar­ran’s blog, www.con­ver­sa­tion­tree.gy

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