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‘No’ to supermajority parliamentary decision-making- Jagdeo; Suriname’s model draws mixed views

Last Updated on Monday, 21 August 2023, 17:30 by Denis Chabrol

Vice President Bharrat Jagdeo

Vice President Bharrat Jagdeo has dismissed any chance of Guyana’s National Assembly passing laws by a supermajority to force consensus between the government and opposition, suggesting that neighbouring Suriname’s super-majority decision-making process causes gridlock.

“Just imagine people talk about power-sharing and the two sides sitting at the cabinet and they can’t reach agreement on anything. Like there is a country next to ours that have coalition governments all the time and they never could, reach decisions. Every project is negotiated. You can’t be effective,” said Mr Jagdeo who is also the General Secretary of the People’s Progressive Party (PPP). He said parties are elected to provide jobs, better health care, better security and other benefits but warned that gridlock could affect key decision-making.

“You might as well fold up the government,” Mr Jagdeo said, adding that whenever the coalition is out of power they call for supermajorities.  The Vice President insisted that the opposition was clamouring for supermajority parliamentary decision-making to obstruct the work of the government.

“This is a recipe for gridlock. It has nothing to do with Afro-Guyanese interest. It has everything to do in vesting power and veto power in the hands of a few who claim they represent Afro-Guyanese but when they are in office we see a very different situation,”he said. Mr Jagdeo also questioned whether there was any other country where the opposition enjoys veto power.

In response to Attorney General Anil Nandlall’s view that no country in the Commonwealth or the Western Hemisphere has a supermajority decision-making process, political and social activist Attorney-at-Law Nigel Hughes who first floated the idea publicly, identified Suriname where the Constitution provides for a two-thirds majority to pass laws concerning the right to vote.

These include the creation of an independent electoral council and its powers, the division of Suriname into electoral districts, repartition of seats in the National Assembly by electoral district, and methods according to which the allocation of seats takes place.  Suriname’s constitution also provides legislative power to be exercised jointly by the National Assembly and government, and a meeting of the National Assembly can decide by at least two-thirds of the votes cast that voting on a specific matter shall be by secret and unsigned ballot

“So much for simple majorities in democratic multiethnic societies,” Mr Hughes said in response to Mr Nandlall’s assertion that advocates for a supermajority decision-making system in the National Assembly.

Attorney-at-Law Nigel Hughes addressing Cuffy250’s State of African Guyanese forum.

Demerara Waves Online News was reliably informed on Monday that there is sometimes gridlock in that system and a number of laws are not passed because the parties do not trust each other. Currently, the political parties need to reach consensus on the election law or Suriname might be unable to hold elections in 2025, the source said. Another source said that was not likely since coalition and opposition today jointly submitted a bill in Parliament to amend the elections law. One of the sources noted that Surinamese do not complain about that process that requires two-thirds of the 51 votes to approve certain decisions.

Article 84 of Suriname’s Constitution states, in part, that National Assembly shall not commence deliberations or take decisions if not more than half of its members are present. All decisions of the National Assembly shall be taken by a normal majority of votes, except for the provisions of several other Articles.  There is need for a majority of at least two-thirds of the constitutional number of members of the National Assembly concerning the amendment of the Constitution, amendment of the electoral act, election of the President, election of the Vice-President,  organisation of a People’s Assembly and the organisation of a referendum to amend the constitution or other matters.

Mr Jagdeo said Mr Hughes wanted to seem national and balanced but offered the same “medicine” to claim that Afro-Guyanese were being discriminated against and so there needed to be another mechanism.

The Vice President said over the years, there have been several attempts at building trust with the People’s National Congress Reform-led opposition, but they have never kept their end of the bargain. He reminded that the PPP would only engage the PNCR if there is respect for democracy, free and fair elections, eschewing racism along with a period for building trust.

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August 2023