LETTER: Judge Chang made a wise ruling mandating a referendum on Constitutional changes

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Dear Editor,

This has reference to a recent news item on the Privy Council Brexit ruling by the UK Supreme Court.  In the UK, there was a referendum. The UK Supreme Court ruled that Parliamentary approval is also required for Brexit.

The Guyana Court of Appeals (led by the Chancellor) is expected to hand down its ruling on the government’s appeal of the decision by the High Court (Judge Ian Chang, Ret’d) declaring presidential term limits unconstitutional.

The CJ ruled that changes to the constitution pertaining to rights must be done by referendum and not parliament alone; peoples rights are supreme. I am in favour of term limits. But I also firmly support the idea that the peoples’ rights are stronger and they should give their assent to any constitution or amendments to it.

The Burnham constitution was not approved by the people in a free and fair referendum. Why not grant the people that vote in a referendum as happened in England with Brexit or in Scotland? The country needs constitutional reform. But it must be done legally through a referendum.

The Burnham constitution was the product of a rigged referendum. Judge Chang made a wise ruling mandating a referendum on constitutional changes although I would have preferred a referendum on the entire constitution. Chancellor Chang’s appeal court should empower the people by affirming that ruling.

Related to the Guyana case is the one recently engaged by the British Privy Council on the legality of the procedure “to Brexit”. There was a court challenge, filed ironically by a Guyanese Briton, on whether the UK can break from EU without parliamentary approval. The Highest Court ruled that parliament must give its assent also to what is known as the Brexit vote and cabinet approval.

Guyana’s system of governance is different from the UK. In UK, the parliament is sovereign and supreme over the people unlike in Guyana. In Guyana, parliament cannot act alone in restricting people’s rights or decide on how people will be governed. In the UK, the people choose representatives – under its first past the post representative democracy– to govern them and act for them in a parliament. Thus, the members of parliament in UK can speak on behalf of the people because each represents a constituency.

In Guyana, the parliament is not sovereign and is not a representative body with constituent representatives; we have a PR system in which the party represents the people. Thus, the Members of Parliament cannot speak on behalf of the population on an important matter like restricting voters’ choices in an election. This must be done by referendum. The fact that the constitution was imposed on the population without their assent, a referendum becomes all the more imperative and moral.

It is about time that the politicians give voters an opportunity to voice their view on the Burnham constitution. The politicians say they are in favour of term limits and people empowerment. Instead of a court challenge to the Chief Judge’s ruling endorsing a referendum, why not put the Burnham constitution and all its amendments to a vote? Better yet, why not ask the people to choose between the amended Burnham constitution and the independence constitution of 1966? Why are politicians afraid of the voices of the people?

Yours faithfully

Vishnu Bisram

1 COMMENT

  1. Vishnu Bisram is a sick man like his opinion polls… the fellow is clutching straws and even if Jagdeo was to get a third term it wouldn’t do him nor PPP thieves anything good. Jagdeo will never ever rule Guyana again. We shall never allow him.

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