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No constitutional reform and end to winner-take-all politics may worsen conflicts- Carter Center

The Carter Center, which observed Guyana’s general elections in 2015, hopes that the David Granger-led administration will keep its election promise to forge ahead with power-sharing and reduce the chances of ethnic and political conflict over oil revenues.

“In the report, The Carter Center repeats its longstanding support for fundamental constitutional reform that attenuates the problems with the current winner-take-all system. The urgency of this challenge is made greater with the anticipated influx of oil revenue, which has the potential to exacerbate ethnic and political conflicts,” the Centre said in a statement accompanying the release of the Carter Centre  2015 Elections Observer Mission report.

When contacted, the Carter Center declined to expand on its linkage between oil revenues and Guyana’s  ethnic and political environment.

Minister of Natural Resources, Raphael Trotman Wednesday night told Demerara Waves Online News, in the absence of seeing the Carter Centre dispatch, acknowledged that Guyanese ought to be concerned about the management, transparency  and fair distribution of the financial windfall that Guyana’s expects from oil revenues.

“I don’t think we needed an international agency like the Carter Center to tell us that. It is something that we all have to be concerned about and we have seen conflicts in other countries over resources and so it is something that government is aware of,” he said.

Trotman said the politicians, civil society, private sector and other stakeholders must be involved in the management of the oil resource beyond the life of one administration. He said the Sovereign Wealth Fund is expected to guarantee transparency and accountability and benefit sharing would be across the entire country. He noted that the Petroleum Commission legislation guarantees the involvement of the political opposition and civil society.

The Petroleum Commission Bill, he said, would soon be debated and sent to a Parliamentary Select Committee for further refinement.

In its report, the Carter Centre says it welcomes the APNU+AFC coalition’s campaign pledge to “mount fundamental constitutional reform to achieve more inclusive governance and power sharing and urges the coalition to live up
to this promise.” “Similarly, the Center urges the PPP/C to engage fully in what should be an open
process inclusive of all stakeholders. The Center encourages all Guyanese to think profoundly
and creatively about how these goals could be achieved.”

Similarly, the Center urges the PPP/C to engage fully in what should be an open process inclusive of all stakeholders.

The Carter Centre notes that while Guyana has previously experienced close elections, 2015 was
the closest election to date, with a coalition of APNU+AFC coalition receiving 50.3 percent of the 412,012 valid votes cast compared to the PPP/C’s 49.2 percent- only 4,506 votes separating  the winner from the loser.

LEFT TO RIGHT: American Ambassador, Perry Holloway; Foreign Minister Carl Greenidge; Natural Resources Minister Raphael Trotman , and Carter Centre Country Representative, Jason Calder.

Despite these distinctions, the Carter Center says 2015 elections still showed that ethnic mobilization played a major role in the campaign, although moderated somewhat by the opposition coalition’s built-in need to reach
across traditional ethnic lines.

“Overall, while these elections represent a step forward in Guyana’s democratic development, there is much
work to be done to ensure governance is inclusive and elections become more routine and less traumatic
to the nation,” said the Center which first observed Guyana’s historic elections in 1992 that saw a break from rigged elections.

The Carter Center has stated that Guyana’s current winner-take-all system in which the party (and ethnic group) thatwins a plurality of the votes claims all executive and legislative power except in the rare cases of opposition majorities in the National Assembly.

“This exclusionary governance system fuels ethnic insecurity and is a factor in Guyana’s long-running
ethnic conflict. While this dynamic has changed somewhat since the Herdmanston reforms and the rise of a successful third political party in 2005, this does not obviate the need for further constitutional reforms,” the organisation said.

carter donald

Former US President, Jimmy Carter, with other observers, with Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo and former President Donald Ramotar.

In particular, the Carter Centre called for an overhaul of Guyana’s electoral system to make it more representative and promote cross-ethnic voting instead of having parliamentarians drawn from a list of candidates.

 

The Centre’s boldest recommendation in its report appears to be one to allow for individual candidates to seek election to the presidency. “The constitutional rules in Guyana limit all candidature for the office of the
presidency and for membership of the National Assembly to those who join party lists.”

The Centre stopped short of saying that being confined to the list system amounts to a violation to Guyana’s constitutional right to freedom of association. “This is an unreasonable limitation on the freedom of
association and on the right to run for election, and consideration should be given to allowing independent candidates.

In addition, in light of the history of ethnic polarization, the Carter Center said Guyana might consider ranked-choice voting for president tovplace an incentive on candidates to appeal to voters across party and communal lines.

Release of the report with a raft of suggested electoral and constitutional reforms comes at a time when Guyana is about to embark on yet another period of constitutional reform.