Part V: The Independence Constitution

Reading Time: 10 minutes
  1. For our current purpose, a Constitution may be regarded as guaranteeing stability when the power it formally allocates to individuals (including Officials of State), groups (including political parties) and institutions is no more and no less than the power which the individuals, the groups and the institutions think they control outside the formal framework. These are the conditions of political stability because, given them, there is no incentive for political agitation. Every person, group and institution will be maximising his power potential.
  2. Over time there are shifts in both the formal allocation of power (constitutional change) and in the actual control of it and the interdependence of these two sets of shifts is one way of looking at the political process. Shifts in the one induce shifts in the other. 1953 provides an instructive example of the two-way relationship. For it was the increase in the real power of the popular forces in the British Caribbean, violently expressed in the region-wide riots of the late 1930s, which outdated the essentially pure Crown Colony Constitutional model of the time. After a lag of some years (lags are always important) Constitutional reform (Ministerial System, Adult Suffrage) was introduced in B.G. in 1953. (Jamaica 1944, Trinidad 1946). But the new Constitution of 1953 permitted* the popular leaders (P.P.P. ‘Ministers’) to threaten to act as if they had more power than in fact they had. This created such an unstable political situation that the Constitution was suspended.
  1. The purpose here is not to pass judgement (though it may be noted that history has already condemned the naked imperialist arrogance of the British) but to identify an important relationship which may serve as a guide to future action.
  1. Whereas now in British Guiana, the existing Constitution accords to one faction more formal power than it can exercise informally (i.e. in fact) the situation is inherently unstable since the formally under-represented faction stands to gain from instability and the reform that inevitably follows. It is only accidental that this imbalance has become excessive at the juncture of Independence. This tends to obscure the issues since the Im­perial power, though completely beaten, remains a confusing factor in the situation.
  1. When the situation has been clarified it would not be surprising if one dominating necessity emerged: an electoral system and a Constitutional frame must be worked out to correct the power imbalance.
  1. It is at once a measure of the weakness of the national intellectual leadership and of the strength of the power drives of the political leadership that inflexible stands on Proportional Representation and First-past-the-post were taken by the respective sides at the Independence Conference of October 1962. What was required was that the one side should have advanced the principle of “equity in power”, and the other conceded it. This would have permitted discussion and compromise while leaving the game to be won by the shrewder bargainer. But this was perhaps too much to hope for in a colonial society accustomed only to borrowing and adapting the specific content of foreign models without going through the stage of theoretical examination. After all, B.G. and other New World societies have ‘borrowed’ their populations and their culture! Small wonder when they borrow their Constitutions!
  1. If it is accepted that the new Constitution must redress the imbalance of power the question still remains – by what means? So far, the one suggestion has been that an electoral system of proportional representation should be introduced. In the abstract there is no effective argument against this. In practice, there is a decisive argument. The demand for proportional representation does not take into account the mess the imperialists have left.
  1. Economic specialisation and geographical concentration of racial groups, ethnic, cultural and religious diversity, general psychological insecurity and social incohesion of the whole population! The nation is an imperially imposed coalition! In these circumstances a system of proportional representation is risky. For although a good programme and a rapprochement between the dominant leaders could conceivably carry it, (or any other system) what would happen if one leader dies?*  The programme may take time (lags, again) to become as effective a binding force as it is a coalescing force.
  1. Consider in contrast to a system of proportional representation a modification of the existing first-past-the-post system which revises the current constituency boundaries and assigns a greater weighting to the under-represented (urban) group. This would satisfy the demand which prompted the call for proportional representation while avoiding the risk. Some bargaining between the groups will of course be necessary but ultimately a reasonable compromise may emerge.
  1. An important point to note is that any reasonable compromise arrived at, promises to yield election results leaving these two main contending factions fairly evenly balanced in the Legislature. This would be quite compatible with political stability if a radical programme of action is not envisaged. But the mess the imperialists have left demands a radical programme! (See Appendix II). And a radical programme will be compatible with political stability and a balanced Legislature only if it were to be jointly agreed on. But if two evenly balanced factions in the Legislature (and comprising an overwhelming majority of it) agree on a joint programme there is automatically a de facto coalition and to give this coalition formal ratification would involve no loss to either faction except where individual and sub-group interests are in conflict with formal coalition.

Footnotes:

* The leadership was not deluded by the real nature of the Constitution “… they did not accept the Waddington Constitution as the proper instrument for the government of the country, and therefore never ceased to oppose what they considered to be the real locus of power. They did not feel themselves to be the government of the country …” Raymond Smith, op. cit. p. 173.

Theory alone establishes the relationship between instrument and purpose and therefore ensures proper choice.

* In the present state of the parties, there is no second-line leader who could prevent disintegration if either leader were to go.