One of the criticisms of the Parliamentary model of governance is its susceptibility to giving life to a “tyranny of the majority” – no matter how thin the majority may be. The problem firstly arises from its structure, which allows a party securing a majority of the popular vote to form the executive and secondly to also include the Ministers of the Executive to form part of the legislative majority. What this does is to ensure every initiative of the Executive are approved automatically in Parliament. Rather than the latter being a check on the always potentially authoritarian tendency of Executives, it becomes its handmaiden and rubber stamp.
To circumvent this democratic travesty, several mechanisms have been introduced to allow the Opposition views “to be heard” in democracies. The U.S., for instance, insists on effective “checks and balances” on the Executive by excluding their members from sitting in their Legislature (House of Congress and Senate). They also confer Legislators substantive power through their Committees that not only scrutinise all Government initiatives, but can conduct hearings on any subject they chose. In this model of governance, then, the Executive has to give serious attention to the opinions of the Opposition.
In the British Parliament, on which ours and the rest of the Commonwealth’s are patterned, several mechanisms were introduced via which the Opposition can make their opinions known outside the debates on government Bills and motions, the subjects of which they obviously control. One is “Private Members Bills” which allow opposition MPs to introduce bills independent of the Government and also dedicated time in Parliament – and in some instances an entire session – is allocated for Opposition MPs who are allowed to speak on subjects of their choosing.
In Guyana, however, even though they were able to secure just 5000 votes less than the government, the government has been adamant on closing the Parliamentary mechanisms created for the Opposition to be heard. This is very unfortunate since apart from the element of due process in allowing the Opposition to “say its piece”, the peace of the polity can be disturbed if the Opposition and its supporters feel they are being silenced in what is fast becoming “the tyranny of the majority”.
At last Thursday’s sitting it had been accepted by the government at the previous one, that it would be dedicated to the Opposition motions on matters that had transfixed both Opposition and government supporters for months: the COI that had been conducted into the Public Service, the Parking Meters that the City Council was insisting on installing by next month and the BILLION dollar Durban Park project that had been largely financed illegally from the Lotto Funds.
However, the Speaker allowed the government’s motion – moved then and there – to debate the President’s speech to Parliament last month, implicitly asserting that this matter was of greater national import that those sought to be raised by the Opposition. The tyranny of the majority was made pellucid when the Government’s major point made when they supported their motion was that the President was addressing Parliament more frequently than his predecessors because “he wanted to get closer to the Legislature”.
It is unfortunate the government is going down this path of blanking the Opposition, when in reality, all the latter can do is talk. This, ultimately, is their prerogative in a democracy and not a favour the government allows them.