Most of the countries that were former British colonies have a government that is similar to the one in Great Britain. In this type of government, the prime minister is the head of government and they have a bicameral legislative body. The prime minister is the leader of his or her political party who is elected to serve in the house of parliament to represent his or her constituency. The leader of the party that wins his or her seat and the majority of seats in the house of parliament automatically becomes the prime minister of the country. However, if the leader of the party loses his or her seat, then he or she cannot serve as the prime minister of the country. The elected members of the party can then choose from among themselves their leader to become the prime minister.
In Great Britain, the Queen or King acts as the titular head of state and, as such, he or she swears in the newly elected prime minister. In most of the former British colonies that role is performed by the governor general of the country, who represents the Queen or King of England. Trinidad, Guyana and Dominica are the only three former British colonies in the Caribbean and Latin America that declared themselves republics. They all have a president but the functions of that office are different in each countries. In Trinidad and Dominica, the president’s duties is similar to that of a governor general in all the other Caribbean countries but in Guyana the president is the head of state and is elected by all the people through a direct vote
In most countries, party leaders are elected through party conventions except in the United States where they have no party leaders and the president is elected through a series of state primary elections and then nominated at a party convention by delegates from their political party. The candidate that gets the most delegate votes at the convention becomes the nominee of the party to run for president. The leader of a party is the chief spokesperson for their political party and he or she remains as the leader until he or she resigns or is removed from the party leadership due to some vote or wrongdoing.
The advantage of having a party leader is that there is a person ready to become prime minister to represent a political party at anytime. Why? Because in most of these countries’ constitution, there is a “vote of no confidence” clause. If any elected member of parliament comes to the conclusion that the person who holds the office of prime minister is not serving in the best interest of the country, he or she can table a vote of no confidence resolution before the house of representatives or parliament against the prime minister. This happened in Trinidad about three months ago but the Vote of No Confidence that was tabled and voted against the prime minister the Right Honorable Kamla Persad-Bassessar failed. In fact I am almost certain that there are members of the Trinidadian parliament who are contemplating on doing that again. They are just waiting to see who else is going to leave or asking themselves where do I stand with all this chaos and confusion that I am involved in now?
Having a direct vote to elect a prime minister or a president has its advantages and disadvantages. The advantage is that anybody will be able to run and the best person who wins becomes the country’s prime minister or president. Another advantage is that if the candidate comes from an ethnic group that makes up the majority of the population, he or she increases his or her chances of becoming prime minister or president. The disadvantage is that the person who wins the prime minister or president might not have the support of the members of the house of representatives and parliament. This could have happened in the United States when Ross Perot ran for president as a member of the newly formed Reform Party against Bill Clinton and George Bush Sr. in 1992.
Political scientists are divided on which one of these two models of selecting a prime minister and president works better. In Guyana, most of the people are East Indians and they will have a difficult time electing a black president unless the East Indians like him or her. The racial tension between these two groups remains tense up to this day and they do not trust each other, which makes it difficult for racial healing. The presidency of Forbes Burnham remains in the minds of the older East Indians and until that generation dies out things will change. Trinidad has more East Indians than blacks but the political relationship between the two ethnic groups is not that bad.
In Belize, where I am from, we have a black prime minister by the name of Dean Barrow for the first time in our country’s history serving his second term, despite the fact that we have more people of Mestizo origin. If Belize was to amend its constitution to have a direct vote for the office of prime minister, I do not think we would have a black prime minister. When this prime minister leaves office, there will be many who will contest for the leadership of the party and, with money playing a major role in Belize’s politics today, I cannot predict the outcome of the new scenario.
The two main political parties must now begin to ask what the Belizean people think of them both. People are becoming impatient with them and are beginning to look for an alternative party. Luckily for the two major political parties in Belize, the VIP and the PNP have not organized themselves nationally to be looked upon as a real alternative to pose a threat to PUP and UDP yet.