OPINION: DEMOCRACY: a tale of two nations

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By Mohabir Anil Nandlall, MP Attorney-at-Law

While Guyanese are battling to force an errant Government to comply with crystally clear language of their Constitution, their supreme law; to obey Orders emanating from the highest Court in their judicial hierarchical structure; and, to extract from its elections body, a clear signal that it is prepared to carry out its fundamental constitutional duty to hold elections that are long lawfully overdue, the world is witnessing, at the other end of the democratic spectrum, the citizens of one of the oldest democracy on earth, the United Kingdom, being allowed to freely exercise their rights and freedoms and in so doing, stretching the institutions of democracy of that nation to its elastic limits. The contrast is indeed a graphic illustration of the difference between civilization and its lack thereof.

It is ironical that this constitutional and democratic revolution unfolding in the UK was triggered by certain legal proceedings initiated by a Guyanese-born UK citizen, Gina Miller, formerly Gina Singh, the daughter of Doodnauth Singh SC, former Attorney General of Guyana. In 2017, the UK Government attempted to trigger Article 50 of the European Union Treaty to initiate the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union. The Government felt that it could use the recognised Prerogative Power to make and un-make treaties, to trigger Article 50 without parliamentary approval. Ms. Miller, etched her name radiantly across the canvas of European history by challenging the legality of this initiative. In short, the Supreme Court (UK) ruled that it would not be legal for the Government to use Prerogative Powers to trigger Article 50: instead, primary legislation was required. In other words, the process must receive the sanction of Parliament. The groundbreaking nature of this ruling is beyond the scope of this article to examine. Sufficed to say, that Ms. Miller, by her legal challenge shook the very foundation of the Royal Prerogative, which was just a few decades prior, believed to be beyond the scope of judicial review and has further entrenched the supremacy and sanctity of the British Parliament.

Over the past two weeks, the UK has experienced a series of profound constitutional actions, encompassing an interplay between the Crown, the Parliament, the Executive and the Judiciary, which have portrayed constitutional actors discharging their lawful duties, in respect of an unwritten Constitution with the highest form of integrity and adhering to constitutional doctrines, such as the Separation of Powers, Independence of the Judiciary and the Will of Parliament with deserving rectitude. Comparatively, it makes us in Guyana look like a society now emerging from Thomas Hobbes’ “State of Nature”.

The ongoing revolution has already gobbled up Prime Minister, Theresa May, who resigned voluntarily and without any political rancor, after failing to muster support, in Parliament, for her position on Brexit. With the same political ease, Boris Johnson, was appointed Prime Minister, after winning the internal contest within the Conservative Party. He did so upon the platform promise that he will deliver Brexit by October 31, 2019. Recognizing now that he will not get parliamentary support to do so, he has petitioned the Queen to prorogue Parliament. The Queen acceded to his request and it is still to be seen whether he will effect the prorogation later this month.

Juxtapose these constitutional processes against what obtains in Guyana and one gets a vivid picture of the humungous differences that exist in political behaviour between these two nations. Prime Minister May did not hesitate to resign when she lost parliamentary support. It was done contemporaneously.

Ten months after our Government lost parliamentary support in a No-Confidence Motion, the Cabinet, including the President, refuses to resign and the President refuses to dissolve the Parliament and fix a date for elections, as is mandated by our Constitution. Instead, he proffered the idiotic excuse that he must await the “readiness” of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) before he does so.

In 2014, President Donald Ramotar invoked a provision in the Constitution and prorogued the Parliament. The then Opposition begun to masquerade in an unschooled frenzy, shouting prorogation is “unconstitutional” and “undemocratic”. Strangely, they managed to so persuade the diplomatic community, who imposed unrelenting consequential pressure upon the Ramotar Administration. In Britain, it is not that the prorogation was not met with dissent, but the civilized option of challenging it in the Judiciary is currently being pursued. A challenge in the Scottish Court was already heard and the Court upheld the legality of the prorogation. Gina Miller has launched proceedings in the High Court of England, as well. The legal arguments are ongoing.

In the meanwhile, Ministers are resigning from Cabinet and Government MPs are crossing the floor daily– another classic example of democracy, freedom and sovereignty at work. I have not heard or read a single allegation of “betrayal” or “treachery” or “bribery” that were barbarically made in Guyana, when Charrandass Persaud, exercised his constitutional right of freedom of conscience and voted against his own Party, on the 21st December 2018.

Prime Minister Johnson has boldly asserted a desire to go to the polls in October, before Parliament votes on Brexit. However, his only hurdle was an amendment to a legislation, which fixes elections to be held at five-year intervals. He needed to amend that law. On the 4th September, he failed in a bid to do so. Many of his own MPs voted against him – another instance of freedom within the Parliament. However, were he successful, elections would have been held in October. That would have given the elections commission of that country just one month’s’ notice. Yet, that body would have been ready to hold those elections, in relation to an electorate spanning dozens of millions. In Guyana, after ten months notice, with an electorate of just over half of a million, our elections commission is still not ready.

Justifiably, we have become a laughing stock. No wonder some Guyanese continue to question whether independence from Great Britain, so valiantly struggled for by so many, was a step in the right direction.