ATTEMPTS TO REACH A POLITICAL SOLUTION IN 1963
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On returning to Guyana, Jagan and Burnham, met in Georgetown on 29 November 1962 under the chairmanship of the Governor, Sir Ralph Grey. D'Aguiar could not attend as he was away from the country. At this meeting Burnham rejected all the proposals made by Jagan. He even refused to accept new elections based on the first-past-the post system with the voting age remaining at 21 years. He disagreed with the formation of a constituent assembly to draft an independence constitution, and was very much opposed to the proposal of a bi-cameral legislature with the lower house being elected under the constituency system and the upper house elected by proportional representation. Burnham demanded a referendum by a simple majority vote to decide on the electoral system, but Jagan disagreed with this, and counter-proposed the offer of a coalition government made to Neville Bissember in London. Burnham bluntly refused to discuss this offer.
Since these discussions failed to reach any agreement, Jagan wrote to Burnham on 11 December 1962 inviting the PNC to join the PPP in a coalition government. Seven days later he again wrote to Burnham requesting a direct answer but a non-committal reply was not sent by Burnham until nearly a month after. In a brief meeting between the two leaders in late February 1963, Burnham indicated that his party was in favour of a coalition with the PPP, but he was unwilling to make suggestions on the way forward.
Then on 26 February 1963, Jagan again wrote, suggesting that three members from each party should meet to plan the discussions. Not obtaining a reply, Jagan again wrote on 2 April naming the PPP's three representatives and inviting Burnham to name the PNC's representatives. Burnham again did not respond, and Jagan on 3 July 1963 sent him a reminder.
During the period from April to July, the country was rocked by a general strike which was called by the TUC backed by the PNC and the UF. The strike was called to oppose the Labour Relations Bill introduced by the government in the legislature to allow workers to determine democratically by a free and fair vote which trade union should represent them. A state of emergency was declared by the Government in order to maintain the proper distribution through price control of consumer goods and scarce supplies of fuel. This was a period of intense anti-government activity involving overt and covert assistance from anti-communist American trade unions, including the AFL-CIO, the American Institute for Free Labour Development and the Inter-American Labour Organisation (ORIT), the Latin American arm of the anti-communist International Confederation of Free Trade Unions. Many representatives from these organisations visited Guyana to render financial and other support to the anti-government TUC and to the opposition political parties. Some of them also acted as agents of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).
The intense anti-PPP activities during the period of the general strike included riots, demonstrations, arson and violence including communal ethnic strife and murder, and were aimed at bringing down the government. It was obvious that Burnham was playing for time knowing that he was receiving full support from the local and foreign opponents of the PPP.
On 3 July, Burnham finally sent a letter to Jagan in which he demanded a referendum to determine the electoral system and for the resignation of the Government and the holding of fresh elections. He claimed that these demands formed the "sole means of restoring normalcy to Guyana" and insisted that he wanted an answer within 48 hours.
The deteriorating political situation forced the Colonial Secretary Duncan Sandys to visit Guyana for meetings with the political leaders. On 18 July, at a meeting he brokered, PPP and PNC representatives discussed measures for a political solution. Sandys had proposed the establishment of a national government before a date for independence could be fixed by the British government. The PPP representatives disagreed with this formula stating that because of strong differences in views with the UF, they would prefer to work in a coalition government with the PNC.
But Burnham was still non-committal on the issue of a coalition, and when he finally met with Jagan shortly after, he immediately raised issues aimed at blocking progress. During the second meeting, he demanded that unless the emergency regulations were lifted he would not continue the discussions. The government could not agree to this demand, and so the talks collapsed.
While these matters were gaining attention in Guyana, Dr. Jagan continued to press the issue of independence at the UN. Burnham himself addressed the Committee handling issues of de-colonialisation, but did not deal directly with the question of independence. He concentrated on attacking the first-past-the-post electoral system stating that such a system would lead to the establishment of "an authoritarian regime through the legislative process."
Government representatives also addressed this committee on separate occasions and drew attention to the belligerent attitude of the British government towards the democratically elected government of Guyana. The deputy Premier, Brindley Benn told the committee on 17 June that the British government should deal honestly with the Guyana government and provide it with the authority to govern in order to maintain law and order. He also asked the committee to demand that the British government set a date for independence and invited it to send a mission observe the situation in Guyana.
But the British government refused to permit the UN Mission to visit Guyana. As a result, the committee invited Jagan and Burnham for a meeting at UN headquarters in New York to meet with a sub-committee of its members. The sub-committee supported the formation of a coalition government, to which Jagan agreed. Burnham was hesitant, but finally decided that the PNC would join if the 10 ministerial posts were divided on an equal basis, and with his party holding the key posts of Finance and Home Affairs. In the negotiations that followed, with the assistance of members of the UN sub-committee, Jagan agreed that the PNC could have Home Affairs if the PPP would have the Ministry of Defence. He was willing to concede the Ministry of Finance to the PNC, but was of the opinion that there should be 11 ministries with the PNC holding 5. The members of the sub-committee felt this was a very reasonable proposal coming from a party that won the election, but Burnham, after being urged to accept it, stated that he must first consult with his executive. It was clear that Burnham was not willing to come to an agreement.
Meanwhile, Dr. Jagan had earlier written to Prime Minister Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana seeking his assistance in brokering an agreement between the PPP and the PNC. The Foreign Minister of Ghana who was at the meeting with the two Guyanese leaders invited them to a meeting in his hotel suite and after discussions in the presence of the Ambassadors of Guinea and Ghana it was agreed that a Commonwealth mission would visit Guyana to work out a settlement. On the day after this meeting, Dr. Jagan reported the results of this meeting to the UN sub-committee.
Dr. Jagan then departed for London to attend the constitutional conference which was due to open on 22 November. On his arrival, the Colonial Secretary, Duncan Sandys, told him that Burnham, after he returned to Guyana from New York and Washington, had stated that he never agreed to the visit of a Commonwealth Mission to Guyana. This display of a lack of principles by Burnham clearly showed that he was not interested in national unity in Guyana.