An interesting development occurred in Holland last January on constitutional governance of which Guyanese politicians must take cognizance and must emulate. Holland illustrates how a government should act. There has been respect for democracy in Holland. The same could not be said to have happened in Guyana by the APNU led coalition. The Prime Minister of Holland and his government resigned because of a financial scandal. Rather than continue in office, the government did the honorable thing – resigned to face the electorate.
With Netherland being a constitutional monarchy, the king who is head of state, asked the PM to run a caretaker administration till elections is held and a new government is formed. As is the norm in any democratic country that embraces constitutional governance, new business cannot be undertaken during caretaker status and parliament cannot meet till new elections. The caretaker administration in Holland respects the law and democratic principles and did not pursue any new business or attempted to extend its stay in office through constitutional manipulation. It submitted itself to the will of the voters.
In Guyana, the opposite happened when the government lost a no confidence motion in December 2018. The APNU led government conducted new business and violated the laws of the country as well as various democratic principles and established parliamentary precedents. The coalition should have resigned and immediately set a date for elections within 90 days. Instead, the the parliament met after the government lost the vote, unprecedented in democratic governance, and passed legislation. Worse, the government held on to power for fifteen months, twelve more than the law allows. And it only scheduled elections because of growing international pressure.
In the Dutch elections held over three days, the first for a European country, because of the pandemic, the incumbent Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s party (VVD) wins the most seats 35, a gain of two from the last election of 2017. The ballots were protected daily with no election worker attempting to manipulate the outcome or stuff ballots in the boxes as was done in Guyana when elections were held on one day.
Dozens of parties contested the elections. Most parties lost seats from the last elections in 2017. Some 76 seats are needed for government formation. The VVD will look for partners to meet the threshold. Alternatively, other parties may try to build an alliance to cobble together 76.
Rutte will remain caretaker till a government is formed. In 2017, he took 225 days to form a government. He is attempting to garner partners in his fourth coalition government over the last decade.
My studies of comparative political systems reveal that like Guyana, Holland has a PR system. SOme sixteen other European states has a PR system. It has slight variation from Guyana’s but the principle is the same in that seats are allocated based on percentage of votes received. Guyana also has geographic seats based on a combination of first past the post and PR. But unlike in Guyana, Holland and European countries use the D’Hondt PR system. In Holland, candidates are listed in order of preference on a list based on party popularity or leadership to sit in parliament. But it is also a ranked choice voting system – complex and complicated in which the voters decide on heir own preference of who sits in parliament as MPs. Voters can choose a candidate lower down on the ranked list (say number 150, for example) and if he or she gets enough votes will be awarded the seat instead of a candidate who is ranked number 5 on the list). In Guyana, the party leaders or head of list decides who sits in parliament even if a candidate is very unpopular; very popular candidates are known to be excluded by the head of a list. There is no ranked choice in Guyana. There was ranked choice in 1964 thru 1973 elections. Then Burnham changed the system in 1980 retaining ranked choice, but if was done away in 2007. The head of a list chooses MPs and selection is based on loyalty of political leader rather than voter preference or competence. A MP in Europe has power to disagree with party leadership. Leadership respects views and give consideration of ideas of MPs.
In both Guyana and Holland, seats are allocated based on the proportion of votes received. It takes about .67% of votes to win a seat in Holland’s 150 members parliament. In Guyana, it is more than doubled and is based on votes received rather than percentage. Interestingly, three Caribbean islands – Bonaire, Saba, Eustatius (not Aruba, Curacao, Saint Martin) do vote in Holland’s general elections as they are administered directly from Holland and each may have a MP sitting in the legislature in Amsterdam similar to French administered territories in the Caribbean.
A new government may take a long time to be formed after this week’s elections. Rutte will remain caretaker until a coalition of parties makes a claim that it has enough seats to form a government. The coalition will approach the king with signatures of a majority of MPs. The king will ask he projected leader to form a government and pass a confidence motion in parliament.
Guyana should examine and give consideration to the Holland method of parliamentary selection and government formation, including choosing the head of the government, as the country ponders electoral and constitutional reforms.