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.
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.
Although its ties to the British monarch were broken, Guyana remained within the Commonwealth of Nations. 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.
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