(GECOM, 5.Jul.2019) — Guyana, the only English speaking country in South America was first inhabited by the Amerindians until the era of the European exploration when the Spanish began using it as a trading post during the 16th Century.
Background and history
Guyana, the only English speaking country in South America was first inhabited by the Amerindians until the era of the European exploration when the Spanish began using it as a trading post during the 16th Century. From the early 17th century onwards, the slave trade developed resulting in an influx of large numbers of Africans (whose descendants are now referred to as “Afro-Guyanese”) mostly from West and Central Africa. The first indentured labourers from what is today India, Pakistan and Bangladesh (whose descendants are referred to as Indo-Guyanese) arrived in Guyana in 1838. Portugese as well as Chinese also came to Guyana as indentured labourers and together with a small group of European descendants and a small percentage of persons of mixed race, constitute today’s population of the country.
British Guiana, as Guyana was formerly called, achieved self-governing status in 1961 with the Head of Government, then known as Premier who was assisted by a Cabinet of Ministers and who altogether had authority over internal matters only.
The British government retained the responsibilities for Foreign Affairs and Defence among others, and was represented in the country by a Governor who had veto powers over the work of the elected legislature. There was a bi-cameral House of Assembly, with a lower house called the Legislative Council and an upper house called the Senate. The Legislative Council was comprised of 35 members elected under the First Past the Post system while the Senate was made up of a majority of members form the Government plus representatives form the Opposition and two nominated members chosen by the Governor after consultation with various groups.
In 1964 the electoral system of First Past the Post was changed to that of Proportional Representation with 53 members in a uni-cameral house due to the abolition of the Senate. The first elections held under this system resulted in the following outcome:-
- People’s Progressive Party (PPP) 25 seats.
- People’s National Congress (PNC) 22 seats.
- United Force (UF) 06 seats.
Since no party gained 51 per cent of the vote, a coalition government was formed between the PNC and UF with Mr. Forbes Burnham as the Premier and Mr. Peter D’Aguiar, Leader of the UF as Deputy Premier.
On the achievement of independence on May 26, 1966 the name Guyana was adopted. Guyana declared republican status on February 23, 1970. Thereafter the Constitution was changed from Monarchical to Republican, with the Head of State no longer being a representative of the Queen of England as it was since 1814 when Guyana became a colony of Great Britain. Under the Republican Constitution, the titular Head of State became the President while the Prime Minister remained the Head of Government.
In 1978 the National Assembly was dissolved into a constituent assembly and in 1980 the republican constitution was replaced by a new one, which coincided with the elections of that year. This constitution provided for –
- An executive President as Head of State and Head of Government although not a member of the National Assembly.
- The affairs of the Government in the National Assembly to be administered by the Prime Minister who is appointed by the President.
- The division of the country into ten Administrative/Geographic Regions that are managed by Regional Democratic Councils.
- The National Assembly to comprise of 65 members in total with 53 directly elected, 10 from the Regional Democratic Councils (RDC) (one from each RDC) and two (2) from the National Congress of Local Democratic Organs (NCLDO) as against the previous uni-cameral legislature of 53 elected members. The NCLDO was established as a constitutional body and comprised of all local government bodies in the country. In addition there was the Supreme Congress of the People which comprised of Parliament and the NCLDO and which met once a year.
The Political Background
Two major political parties, the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) and People’s National Congress (PNC) have dominated political life in Guyana since the late fifties. The PNC in an alliance with The United Force (TUF) in 1964 formed the first post independence Government. The former remained in power until 1992 with numerous allegations of electoral malpractice and manipulation being made after each of the elections which followed that party’s accession to office. Although both parties can claim a “cross-over” of small numbers of voters from all of the ethnic groups that make up Guyana’s population, The PPP/C gathers most of its support from the Indo-Guyanese community while the PNC is largely supported by the Afro-Guyanese.
For the 1992 elections the PPP, in an attempt to broaden its appeal to non-Indo Guyanese electors and to demonstrate a break with its own political past, allied itself with a group of people from the business community and civil society under the title People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/Civic). From time to time, a number of small parties have risen to challenge one or the other of the larger parties’. However, few have in the past succeeded in winning substantial support. Consequently, even by 1997, almost 96% of the electorate voted for either the PPP/C or the PNC.
As a consequence of intense criticisms which followed the 1985 general elections, the PNC Government led by President Desmond Hoyte instituted reform of the electoral process and relinquished control of the electoral machinery.
In 1992, the PPP/Civic won the General elections but although international observers and others proclaimed the 1992 general elections as “free and fair”, a minority of the electorate remained doubtful and Georgetown witnessed a number of demonstrations.
The 1997 general elections, which the PPP/Civic again won, also ended in allegations of irregularities and electoral malpractice which sparked off numerous demonstrations which degenerated into violence and civil disturbance. In the wake of the violence on the streets of Georgetown, CARICOM dispatched a Goodwill Mission to Guyana in January 1998. On January 17, 1998, the CARICOM Mission brokered an agreement between the PPP/C and the PNC through the signing of the Herdmanston Accord by President Janet Jagan and Leader of the PNC, Mr. Desmond Hoyte which brought peace to the country. By this accord, the parties committed themselves to political dialogue, an external audit of the election results and constitutional reform. The purpose of the accord was to reduce conflict and bring about a level of normality. As a consequence the PPP/C government agreed to prematurely end its term in office on January 17, 2001.
Under the current constitutional arrangements, the presidential nominee of the party with the largest number of votes wins the Presidency. With the exception of 1964, the party with the largest number of votes in each of the elections benefited from a majority in parliament.
Guyana is situated on the Northeastern Coast of the continent of South America to the North of Brazil and between Venezuela to the west, Suriname to the east and the Atlantic Ocean to its North. It covers an area of approximately 215,000 square kilometers or 83,000 square miles and according to the 2002 Population Census has a population of approximately 750,000 people about 90% of which live along the coastal belt, which is below mean sea level. The coastal plain is approximately 25,900 square kilometers (10,000 square miles).
Guyana’s temperature is moderated by the constant flow of the Northeast trade winds which is mostly in the range of 24o C to 32o C (75o F to 90o F). The country extends from 1o and 9o North Latitude and 57o and 61o West Latitude within the high rainfall belt of the Tropics.
In 2001 Guyana was divided into ten geographic constituencies that correspond with the ten Administrative Regions. These are
- Region 1 (Barima-Waini),
- Region 2 (Pomeroon – Supenaam),
- Region 3 (Essequibo Islands – West Demerara),
- Region 4 (Demerara – Mahaica),
- Region 5, Mahaica – Berbice),
- Region 6 (East Berbice – Corentyne),
- Region 7 (Mazuruni – Cuyuni),
- Region 8, Potaro – Siparuni),
- Region 9 (Upper Essequibo – Upper Takatu) and
- Region 10 (Upper Demerara – Berbice).
The Management of each Region is administered by a Regional Democratic Council (RDC) of which members ranging from 12 to 36 (depending upon the size and population of the Region) are elected at Regional Elections which are run simultaneously with General Elections. In executing the policies of Central Government, the RDCs represent the citizens of the respective Regions. The electoral legislation governing the 2001 General and Regional Elections made provisions for twenty-five (25) Members of Parliament to be elected directly from these Geographic/Administrative Regions in a framework of proportional representation.
Pending the outcome of the ongoing Population Census 2002.
The 2001 Official List of Electors
The List of Electors for the 2001 General and Regional Elections was produced and revised in stages for which a methodology was devised, documented and applied. The main objective of the preparation of the List was to derive an acceptable Official List of Electors that contained the names of all eligible persons (i.e. persons who had attained the age of 18 years or over on or before 31st December 2000) for the 2001 General and Regional Elections. This list had to withstand public scrutiny in terms of the details of all electors being accurately listed without duplication.
Current Governance Issues related to Elections:
The recommendations of the Constitutional Reform Commission (CRC) which comprised of all parties represented in Parliament as well as representatives of other stakeholders, and which was formed to undertake the process of constitutional reform, were implemented immediately after the 2001 General and Regional Elections. The implemented recommendations which pertain to elections and the electoral system include the following:
1.The National Assembly remains a uni-cameral legislature with sixty five (65) elected members of the National Assembly, and with provisions for a possible extra member i.e. sixty six (66) members should a special situation arise as outlined in the Representation of the People (Amendment)(No. 2) Act 2001 (Act No 2 of 2001). To cater for this situation and to ensure the constitutional requirement for proportionality, the National Assembly further amended the Constitution (Constitution (Amendment) (No. 1) Act 2001 and the Representation of the People Act (Representation of the People (Amendment) Act 2001) to allow the National Assembly to have at least sixty five (65) members and to allow GECOM to allocate “overhang seats” if required. Overhang seats would be required if a Party wins a disproportional number of constituency seats thereby giving it an advantage over other parties. Under these circumstances GECOM would award overhang seats to the national top up to ensure that the advantage is removed. As such e.g. where a party obtains the required number of votes for a seat at the regional level but that number of votes would not entitle the party to a seat at the national level, the regional seat is not taken away from the party but an additional seat(s) is added onto the quota for the National Assembly so that the proportionality is not lost.
2.Forty (40) members of the National Assembly are directly elected under the system of Proportional Representation at the national level, with a further twenty five (25) members elected at the Regional/Geographic constituency level, with the various Regions having different numbers of representatives relative to their respective populations.
3.The NCLDO and the Supreme Congress of the People were abolished.
4.The President could no longer dissolve Parliament where the National Assembly has refused to pass legislation. Some of the powers of the President have been abolished while others have been modified.
5.There is a provision to allow for the increased participation of women in the Parliament. In the Constitution Amendment Act of 2000 there is provision for the political parties to ensure that the lists of candidates submitted to the GECOM contain one-third women on them. In only one-fifth or two constituencies is a party allowed to present a list that does not have at least one-third women named therein.
Emerging out of the dialogue process between President Bharat Jagdeo and then Leader of the Opposition, Mr. Hugh Desmond Hoyte S.C., the Joint Task Force on Local Government Reform (JTFLGR) was established to among other things give effect to the new constitutional provisions regarding local government democracy and to monitor and guide the drafting, passing and implementation of legislation to give greater autonomy to local government organs.
Since its establishment, the JTFLGR has conducted consultations with communities throughout Guyana with the aim of getting their respective views and to get an impression of how they feel their communities should be managed. The key objective of the Task Force is to learn from the respective communities how best to improve the overall and specific functioning of Neighbourhood Democratic Councils (NDC) and whether there should be a return to the village council system.
In addition, the JTFLGR, with the guidance of Dr. Benjamin Riley, Consultant on Local Government Reform, under the auspices of the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES), has arrived at three options out of six originally considered as possibilities for the imminent local government.
Upon completion of its work, the recommendations of the Task Force will have to be prepared in the form of legislative amendments and presented to the National Assembly for approval. The work of the Task Force is still on-going.
The JTFLGR is Co-chaired by Hon. Clinton Collymore, Minister within the Ministry of Local Government and Mr. Vincent Alexander, Representative of the People’s National Congress/Reform.
THE PARLIAMENT OF GUYANA
The Parliament of Guyana consists of the President and the National Assembly in which the Members of Parliament sit as representatives of the people of Guyana having been elected at the national elections.
Article 69 (3) of the Constitution states that unless the President dissolves Parliament sooner, it continues for five years from the date when the Assembly first meets after any dissolution. If Guyana is at war then this period may be extended by twelve months at a time though it cannot be extended for more than five years in all.
For persons to be eligible to be Members of Parliament they must satisfy the following criteria as set out in article 55 of the Constitution.