Category Archives: Guyana

‘Difficult’ cases – Guyana

This is series of posts that identifies countries that almost comply with the definition of semi-presidentialism that is used in this blog, but which fail to do so on the basis of a certain, sometimes unusual provision, or where the date when semi-presidentialism started can be contested.

In some of my earlier work, I originally classed Guyana as semi-presidential. However, after discussions with colleagues, I no longer count Guyana as semi-presidential. However, it is on the cusp of semi-presidentialism and part of me is still tempted to include it in the list.

Guyana achieved independence in 1970. The first constitution dates from this time. A second constitution was adopted in 1980 and there were major amendments in 1996. Freedom House rated Guyana as Free in 1972 (the first year of their series), Partly Free in 1973 and then Not Free in 1974. It was then rated Partly Free from 1975-1992 and Free thereafter, apart from 2005 when it was rated Partly Free. For Polity, if we assume that a democracy is a country that scores +1 or more, then Guyana was a democracy (just) from 1970-1977. It then lost this status from 1978-1991 inclusive. It has been a democracy since with a score of +6, which is slightly lower than the lowest Polity score for a consolidated democracy.

Even though there have been two constitutions since 1970, the key elements relating to semi-presidentialism have remained basically the same. I am going to look at the most recent version of the constitution and identify the salient features.

At least one of the reasons why I have found Guyana difficult to classify at times is because of the sheer length of the constitution – in my 12-point font Word document, it comes to no fewer than 95 pages! Also, some of the Articles are less than clear (to an outsider at least). Here are the key articles for the purposes of semi-presidentialism (or otherwise):

Article 91: “The President shall be elected by the people in the manner prescribed in Article 177”.
Article 177 (2): “A Presidential candidate shall be deemed to have been elected as President and shall be so declared by the Chairman of the Elections Commission ––
(a) if he is the only Presidential candidate at the election; or
(b) where there are two or more Presidential candidates, if more votes are cast in favour of the list in which he is designated as Presidential candidate than in favour of any other list.”

There are also clauses that make it clear that the president serves for a fixed term, all else equal.

Article 101: “(1) The President shall appoint an elected member of the National Assembly to be Prime Minister of Guyana.
(1) The Prime Minister shall be the principal assistant of the President in the discharge of his executive functions and leader of Government business in the National Assembly.”

Article 106 : “(1) There shall be a Cabinet for Guyana, which shall consist of the President, the Prime Minister, the Vice Presidents, and such other Ministers as may be appointed to it by the President.
(2) The Cabinet shall aid and advise the President in the general direction and control of the Government of Guyana and shall be collectively responsible therefor to Parliament.”

In most circumstances, these provisions would clearly indicate a semi-presidential constitution, albeit one in which the president is the dominant figure. However, the manner in which the president is elected is the complicating factor in Guyana.

There is no separate presidential election in Guyana. There is one election for both the president and the National Assembly. The electoral system for National Assembly elections is a list system. The nominated presidential candidate (i.e. the number 1 on the list) of the party that wins a plurality of votes in the legislative election is elected as president.

In their article Blais et al (Electoral Studies, 16:4, 441-455, 1997) classify Guyana as a case of direct presidential election. However, the Political Database of the Americas only provides results for parliamentary elections because there is no separate presidential election.

The Guyanese system could result in cohabitation. For example, if the president were elected with only a plurality of votes, then it is possible that opposition parties may still enjoy a majority in the legislature. This would mean a period of cohabitation for the duration of the legislature.

In practice, this scenario has never occurred because there have tended to be two main parties in the Guyanese party system, which is divided along ethnic lines.

In short, I no longer classify Guyana as semi-presidential because there is no separate election for the president. In his article, Siaroff (European Journal of Political Research, vol. 42, 287-312, 2003) places Guyana in a category with South Korea and Sri Lanka, but notes the lack of a separately elected president.

On a final note, despite running for 95 pages, there is no detail in the constitution about how parliament can hold the cabinet accountable. In fact, one reading of Article 183 would indicate that ministers could not be dismissed by parliament. However, in correspondence with a Guyanese expert that was passed on to me, it seems as if parliament can dismiss the cabinet by a vote of no-confidence relating to the budget. I am assuming that the standing orders of parliament include this provision because I cannot find it in the constitution itself.