Global Politics & Cultures (formerly Independent Thought & Freedom)
Episode 161

Constitutions of Guyana vs. Trinidad and Tobago: Ethnicity, PR, Democracy and Social Cohesion w/ Ralph Ramkarran and Timothy Hamel-Smith

Kirk Meighoo published on

A Story Club: Global Politics S2 E7
streamed live on FB from the US (San Francisco), India (Dehra Dun) and Trinidad and Tobago in the Caribbean, Thursdays 12pm EDT | 9am PDT | 9:30pm IST
repeated Friday on the UNC Network in Trinidad and Tobago 6pm AST

Trinidad and Tobago and Guyana are two Caribbean countries in the Southern Caribbean. They share significant similarities such as being former British colonies, historically dominated by sugar plantations, slavery and indentureship, multi-racial but dominated by descendants of Africans and (Asian) Indians. Both are developing countries that face political, social, economic and other challenges.

Ethnic-based politics has been prominent in both countries, which has sometimes been problematic in terms of social cohesion and democratic accountability.

Trinidad and Tobago achieved Independence from the UK in 1962, and Guyana in 1966. However, the constitutions they were left with under British rule were radically different. The electoral system (Proportional Representation vs. First-Past-the-Post) was a major difference. Guyana was firmly caught in the rivalries of the Cold War between the Soviet Union and the USA, affecting its development greatly, and largely negatively. Trinidad and Tobago was generally more stable and prosperous, but this may change now that Guyana has a new oil and gas industry that may be among the world's largest, while Trinidad and Tobago's over a century-old oil and gas industry has been facing many years of decline and decay.

Particularly in Trinidad and Tobago, constitutional reform issues have been on the table for two decades almost continuously. It will be instructive to compare the countries' very different constitutions and see how they have helped or hindered progress in areas such as economic and social development, and democratic representation and accountability.

I am joined by two experienced guests from both countries, Ralph Ramkarran from Guyana and Timothy Hamel-Smith from Trinidad and Tobago.

Ralph Ramkarran is a politician and lawyer who served as Speaker of the National Assembly of Guyana from 2001 to 2011. He comes from a family with a long political history in Guyana.

Timothy Hamel-Smith is also a lawyer and was former President of the Senate in Trinidad and Tobago from 2010-2015. He also comes from a family with a long political history in Trinidad and Tobago.

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