Committee politics and
By Dr. Prem Misir
Quite recently, I penned a piece on democratizing democracy. The idea there was to show that even among politicians, there are more similarities than differences, a situation that exists in most ordinary folks’ daily lives. And decent-minded politicians have one overarching goal which is to advance the national cause of their country.
What hinders them from making this happen is the focus of politicians on their differences, philosophic and ideological, and/or the quest for personal power. Removing the philosophic and ideological veil that politicians cherish would expose their similarities for the entire world to see.
Such exposure would do well for Guyana, particularly in light of the new political dispensation, where there is a minority government and an opposition-controlled parliament. Both sides of the political aisle, through their philosophic and ideological veil, present different methodologies in the path toward development; and unless there is a buy-in on what each has to sell, parliament will become a do-nothing parliament, and government will not achieve much. Under these circumstances, the biggest loser is ‘Guyana’.
Both the minority government and the opposition-controlled parliament have to accept and practice the politics of accommodation in this new political dispensation; and, indeed, to use the international best practices in this regard. Nevertheless, the politics of accommodation in today’s Perspectives is far removed from the overzealous and overestimated consociational and power sharing paradigms that mainly work toward integrating power interests as part of some conflict-resolution process; this approach gets stuck in the means without achieving ends in relation to the national cause.
This can happen because in the consociational paradigm, people whose power interests have become politically accepted and then gain ascendancy as part of the political system, would likely be more attracted toward sustaining that power and less attracted to advancing the national cause. In this entire pursuit for personal political power, the idea of ‘the people’ gets lost.
Today, many political orders boast of their authority through the moral bedrock of “the people” (Pozo, 2011), and that state power is supported by “the people” and shored up with a mandate from “the people” (Cohen, 1988). Focusing directly on “the people” on all things political would help to remove the veil of philosophic and ideological differences, thereby exposing greater similarities than differences among politicians. In this way, advancing the national cause becomes a political priority for all the politicians. But where could politicians zero in on “the people” outside of the national assembly which provides limited opportunities for dialog and building quality interaction?
In a practical sense, the potential to remove this veil of philosophic and ideological differences and speak to “the people” is pregnant in parliamentary committee politics; and it is in this political arena of committee politics, given the existence of a minority government and opposition-controlled parliament, that we can see both meaningful government-opposition interaction and whether the political system will follow either consensus or majoritarian politics (Miller and Stecker, 2008), or a combination of both.
Miller and Stecker concluded that while it is true that committee politics may not be consensus-based and that committee members follow partisan rules, contexts for political action also could determine committees’ political behaviors. In this way, such contexts could dictate whether committee politics would follow a trajectory of consensus or partisanship; for instance, they noted that if any minority government has high stakes on a bill, it would pursue compromises in the committee system to ensure the bill becomes law.
In the Guyana situation, it is not surprising that the opposition-controlled parliament seeks to influence the minority government, and the minority government seeks to avoid any of that influence through plodding along with its program of activities. Both opposition and government can only follow their respective trajectories in the national assembly, and both may be quite successful at achieving some level of success. The real test and quality of government and opposition interaction, nonetheless, may reside in committee politics, and not necessarily in the national assembly. Committee politics may have the potential either to achieve the best for Guyana, or to make Guyana the loser. At the endpoint, outcomes from committee politics may determine the future of this parliament and government.