Guyana's complex constitutional history provides a useful means
of understanding the conflict between local interests and those of
Britain, the long-time colonial power. The colony's first
constitution, the Concept Plan of Redress, was promulgated under
Dutch rule in 1792 and remained in effect with modifications under
British administration until 1928. Although revised considerably
over the years, the Concept Plan of Redress provided for a governor
appointed by the colonial power and for a Court of Policy that
evolved into the colony's legislature. Reforms throughout the
nineteenth century gradually broadened the electoral franchise and
lessened the power of the planters in the colonial government
(see Transition to British Rule
, ch. 1).
As a result of financial difficulties in the 1920s and conflict
between the established sugar planters and new rice and bauxite
producers, the British government promulgated a new constitution
making British Guiana a
crown colony (see Glossary).
The Court of
Policy was replaced by a Legislative Council with thirty members
(sixteen appointed and fourteen elected), and executive power was
placed in the hands of a governor appointed by officials in London.
Modifications throughout the 1930s and 1940s made the majority of
members of the Legislative Council subject to popular election and
further broadened the franchise
(see Political and Social Changes in the 1900s
, ch. 1).
The formation of British Guiana's first major political party
in 1950 and growing pressure for independence again forced the
British to overhaul the political framework. A royal commission
proposed a new constitution that would provide for a bicameral
legislature consisting of a lower House of Assembly and an upper
State Council, a governor appointed by the British, and seven
ministers appointed by the House of Assembly. This constitution was
put into effect in early 1953. The electoral success of selfproclaimed Marxist-Leninist Cheddi Jagan and his leftist People's
Progressive Party (PPP) in the April 1953 elections frightened the
colonial authorities. After the new legislature passed a
controversial labor bill and pressed for independence, the British
suspended the constitution in October 1953 and put in place an
interim government whose members were chosen entirely by British
(see The PPP's First Government, 1953
, ch. 1).
New elections were held in 1957 to choose a majority of members
in the new Legislative Council; the rest of the members were chosen
by the governor. During its four-year tenure, this government set
up a committee to make recommendations on yet another constitution.
The committee proposed that a new government be formed with full
The Second PPP Government, 1957-61, and Racial Politics).
Only defense and external affairs would be
managed by the British.
In 1961 the new constitution went into effect. The legislature
was bicameral: the lower house, a thirty-five-member Legislative
Assembly, consisted entirely of elected officials; and the upper
house, the thirteen-member Senate, consisted entirely of
appointees. The prime minister, who was chosen by the party with a
majority of votes in the Legislative Assembly, held the most
powerful executive post. Assisting the prime minister were various
other ministers. The governor remained the titular head of state.
The PPP won the elections of August 1961, and Jagan was named prime
Labor strife and civil disturbances were widespread in 1962 and
1963. In an effort to quell the unrest, the British colonial
secretary declared a state of emergency and proposed modifying the
constitution to provide for a unicameral fifty-three-member
National Assembly and proportional representation. The proposal was
adopted, and elections were set for 1964. These elections brought
to power a new coalition government headed by the PNC. However, the
PPP administration refused to step down. Not until a constitutional
amendment was enacted empowering the governor to dismiss the
National Assembly was the old government removed from power
(see PPP Reelection and Debacle
, ch. 1).
Data as of January 1992