The unanticipated passing of the no-confidence motion brought by the PPP/Civic Opposition in Guyana against the APNU/AFC coalition Government as a result of an MP of the AFC voting with the Opposition has raised some issues of the nature of representative democratic politics as well as consequences for constitutional and political outcomes in Guyana.
As regards democratic representation, the first question that needs a response is what are the duties and responsibilities of a representative in Parliament. One may surmise that the priority obligation is to faithfully represent the interests, concerns, wishes and aspirations of his/her constituents and to do so by observing the oath of office which, in the case of T&T, is to uphold the Constitution and the law and to do right by all manner of men without fear or favour, affection or ill-will. The oath, therefore, implies that the representative’s duties’ should be carried out dispassionately, with integrity and conscientious judgment and in conformity with the law.
In the case of the first-past-the-post electoral system, the constituents are defined by geographical boundaries as is the case in T&T whereas, with respect to proportional representation, as implemented in Guyana, the constituents may be extended to include all those who voted for the party which selected the representative.
In both systems, however, a representative in Parliament is generally elected through association with or support of a political party. In fact, in many jurisdictions, it is assumed that it is the party’s support which is the dominant factor in the election of a MP. Therefore, the member is deemed to have an obligation to the party on whose ticket he/she successfully entered Parliament.
That obligation may encompass adherence to the party’s rules and constitution and subscription to its policies and programmes both in and out of Parliament. In fact, in some jurisdictions, laws have been passed requiring a member to vacate his/her seat in the event that he/she resigns or is expelled from the party on whose ticket the member contested and won the seat. The justification for such provision in the law is that there is need to maintain a measure of parliamentary stability for both the ruling party and government as well as for opposition parties and to prevent rampant individualism, political opportunism, and inconsistencies in representation.
On the other hand, one of the consequences of laws which in effect prescribe obedience to party directive is that the freedom of action and expression of representatives is circumscribed and some argue that it is inimical to the spirit of representative democracy. Some leaders have placed a premium on party loyalty to even stifle dissent. Others have declared adherence to the principle of party paramountcy. Many have argued that strict compliance with party positions and policies converts ordinary members and representatives to ciphers and sycophants.
Indeed, sometimes it is a sad sight to see men and women dispense with their pride, independence, and critical faculty so as not to defy the party which in effect means the leadership. This is done in order to preserve their seats in Parliament or their positions in Government.
Clearly, there will be occasions when an MP conscientiously disagrees with the majority view of the party and the positions and policies adopted by it. There will be other occasions when there is irreconcilable conflict between an MP’s duty to his constituents and his obligation to support party policies and direction. A conflicted MP may raise his/her objections and disagreements internally and seek to persuade the majority. If he/she is unsuccessful, then there are two options available—either to suppress one’s own opinion and judgment and go along with the position of the majority or publicly proclaim disagreement and dissatisfaction and face the consequences. When and how an MP chooses to make the rebellious position public resides in his/her discretion.
In the case of MP Charrandas Persaud, he chose the occasion of a no-confidence vote against the Government of which his party was a member to make his opposition public. He would have known the enormous consequences of his action. There could have been the imminent collapse of the Government, a constitutional imbroglio and the possible calling of national elections. He would also have anticipated the violent reaction of his erstwhile parliamentary colleagues some of whom resorted to expletives, threats, and vociferous condemnation.
It is difficult to accurately assess the motivation which impelled Charrandas Persaud to make his momentous decision. Did he feel that his views were ignored and dismissed as a supporter of the Government or did he believe that his constituents (AFC voters) were disenchanted and even betrayed by the policies of the Government? As a consequence did he see it as his duty to express that disenchantment publicly which trumped his obligation to the party?
(To be continued)