Independent Guyana's first constitution (a modified version of
the 1961 constitution) took effect on the first day of
independence, May 26, 1966. It reaffirmed the principle that Guyana
was a democratic state founded on the rule of law. The titular head
of the country was the British monarch, represented in Guyana by
the governor general, who served in a largely ceremonial capacity.
Real executive power rested in the prime minister, appointed by the
majority party in the unicameral fifty-three-member National
Assembly, and his ministers. The first postindependence elections,
conducted in 1968, confirmed the dominant role of the PNC and its
leader, Forbes Burnham
(see Burnham in Power
, ch. 1).
On February 23, 1970, the Burnham government proclaimed the
Cooperative Republic of Guyana. This move had both economic and
political ramifications. The government argued that the country's
many resources had been controlled by foreign capitalists and that
organizing the population into cooperatives would provide the best
path to development.
The 1970 proclamation severed Guyana's last significant
constitutional tie to Britain. The governor general, heretofore the
ceremonial head of state, was replaced by a president, also a
ceremonial figure. Arthur Chung, a Chinese-Guyanese, was the
country's first president
(see The Cooperative Republic
, ch. 1).
Although its ties to the British monarch were broken, Guyana
remained within the Commonwealth of Nations
(see Appendix B).
Membership in the Commonwealth allowed Guyana to reap the benefits
of access to markets in Britain and to retain some of the defense
arrangements that Britain offered its former colonies. In
particular, the British defense umbrella was seen as a deterrent to
Venezuelan claims on Guyanese territory
(see Relations with Venezuela
, this ch.;
, ch. 5).
Data as of January 1992