Photo : Vishnu Bisram
Former Attorney General Anil Nandlall contends that the PPP never promised to amend the Burnham constitution. That is not factual. Constitutional reform (replacing the Burnham constitution) is a necessary requirement to resolving racial conflict in which no race would have absolute control over the state. But the ruling PNC and AFC combine as well as the opposition PNC all seem uninterested in constitutional reform because all of them wish to exercise power without restrictions for the elite in the party. They are opposed to people sharing power and racial healing.
When it was in opposition, the PPP advocated reforms while the then ruling PNC opposed reforms. In government, the PPP was uninterested in constitutional reform while the PNC called for reform. Under pressure from the PNC, the PPP implemented several reforms to the fraudulent constitution. But the PPP failed to replace the Burnham constitution as promised repeatedly between 1978 and 1992.
The Burnham constitution was fraudulent. The legal method to replacing the Westminster model was never carried out. The dictator Forbes Burnham referred to the Westminster model as the “White Man constitution” and fraudulently changed it. The people preferred the “White man constitution”. Even Dr. Cheddi Jagan, as communistic as he was, favored the White man constitution at the time of the July 1978 referendum and led the campaign against the Burnham model. In opposition, Jagan opposed the Burnham constitution, but after coming to power, Jagan embraced the Burnham model.
Jagan did commit (from 1978 till his election to the Presidency in Oct 1992) to replacing the Burnham constitution. Countless articles support my contention in the international media such as Caribbean Contact and Caribbean Perspectives in the late 1970s and 1980s as well as the local organs of the PPP, Mirror Newspaper and The Thunder, WPA’s Dayclean, and Catholic Standard. Dr. Jagan gave several interviews to the international press and to this writer assailing the fascist Forbes Burnham and the PNC dictatorship for the rigged referendum of July 1978 and the resulting document constructed by Mohammed Shahabudeen and others out of the referendum skullduggery. Several articles appeared in Stabroek News in which Jagan assailed the Burnham constitution and promised to replace it.
Political activists like myself (joined others in the PPP, WPA, UF, URP, etc.) to campaign against the Burnham referendum from July 1978 onwards. Dr. Jagan led the opposition (the famous Boycott campaign of which Burnham ridiculed) to the rigged referendum as well as the poorly written constitution and its illegal proclamation in December 1980. In lectures overseas, including in New York, Trinidad, Barbados, Antigua, etc., Dr. Jagan and Mrs. Jagan committed to replacing the Burnham constitution. At several fundraisers in NY, Jagan restated the party's position on the constitution. In his last trip to the US before he was elected the country’s first democratic President, Jagan reiterated that the constitution would be replaced once the PPP forms the government. He repeated same in public meetings in September and October 1992 in Guyana. Yesu Persaud informed me that Jagan committed to replacing the constitution. It is indisputable that neither Jagan nor any of his successors made any serious effort to carrying out that promise made countless times between 1978 and 1992.
After he was elected President, Jagan was asked about replacing the Burnham constitution, his response was he would not abuse the executive powers enshrined in the fraudulent document. He never stated that the political atmosphere did not allow for constitutional change. He stated “he could not throw out the baby with bath water”. He repeated the same points when he was asked by reporters in NY and in an interview I conducted with him for the Caribbean Indian American News and Guyana Abroad in 1993. The atmosphere in 1993 was perfect to replacing the Burnham constitution. The population wanted radical change because they were oppressed for too long by the Burnham/Hoyte dictatorships. They wanted to replace and forget everything related to Burnhamism. They had greater faith and confidence in the “White man constitution”. The army, police, bureaucracy, and the population were supportive of Jagan to carry out radical reforms. Other parties, except PNC, supported revocation of the constitution. Jagan would have gotten comprehensive support to dump the Burnham constitution. In fact, he was so advised by constitutionalists including the eminent Sir Fenton Ramsahoye who served as Jagan’s AG before Jagan was toppled from office by the CIA in December 1964. I also begged Jagan to revoke the constitution when we met in his office in April 1993, but he would not budge – not because the atmosphere would not allow it but because he did not like anything that was related to the British imperialists. He told many people he was not embracing anything that was tied to the imperialists; he told me he was not returning to any imperialist constitution. Jagan preferred the Burnham constitution over the imperialist constitution never mind that the former was authoritarian and the latter democratic. Dr Ramsahoye, the leading Queens constitutionalist in the Caribbean, informed me that he urged Jagan to pass a bill stating that all elections between 1968 and 1992 were fraudulent, and therefore, any acts resulting from such government formations were unconstitutional. All the parties would have supported such a bill. Jagan rebuffed Ramsahoye whose advise and recommendations were viewed as “returning to imperialism” never mind that embracing imperialism would have served the interests of the population as compared with embracing Burnham’s fascism. Passing such a bill would have set the atmosphere to replacing the Burnham constitution and empowering the population. We would not have had the kind of problems we face today. It is noted that when in opposition,
The PPP established a constitutional reform committee in 1994 to replace the constitution but dragged its feet on the issue. Changes were introduced to the constitution in 2000 after the PNC battered the PPP in the streets (from December 1998 onwards) resulting from the consequent Herdmanston Accord. From 2001 even though there was a Standing "Constitutional Reform Committee" that was established to continue reform, and Doodnauth Singh was elected Chair, it met only once between 2001-2006.
The PPP seems interested only in piecemeal reforms of the Burnham constitution. In contrast, I and those who fought against Burnhamism, have been advocating complete replacement of the constitution. Like the PPP, the PNC has been comfortable with the constitution because it was created by the party’s totalitarian leader. And the party’s current leadership has indicated that the party and the government are returning to Burnhamist principles. Since both parties accept the Burnham constitution, and the AFC has lost interest in constitutional change, also a reversal to its position prior to 2015, why not put the Burnham constitution to a test before the population. Let the people choose between the Burnham and Westminster (the White man) constitution in a plebiscite. If the Burnham constitution is accepted, then it would be legal and law of the land.