Democracy’s essential infrastructure must be built – not its façade
By Khemraj Ramjattan
The idea of boycotting the next General Elections in 2011 was recently floated by my colleague Mr. Raphael Trotman. Surely the suggestion was motivated out of a frustration setting in from extreme intransigence of President Jagdeo’s refusal of a probe into the Phantom Killings, a probe which even the UN’s Human Rights arm has called for.
The idea having been floated realized a call of support from Freddie Kissoon but with the addition, as he logically argues, of demonstrations and protests to force the Government to behave itself.
I respect his opinion. The fact that only one such social commentator has taken this position, at least in the written form, is instructive. It is useful information to gauge public sentiment on the issue.
My personal position is that demonstrations and protests are not going to be endorsed by Guyanese, at least not now. The Guyanese masses have not been sufficiently stirred by what are classically called “the objective, subjective, and international circumstances’’.
Such a route as Kissoon has called for has a dangerous end to it…. the emergence of political violence ……which in this country takes on a racial/ethnic turn. The PPP will ensure that that happens; and vicariously too, so will the PNC. It is in their interests that this happens. Violence in the streets of Georgetown and elsewhere is a potency dose for both these parties. And what is a potency dose for them is poison for Guyana! Further destruction, division and demoralization will reign.
There is a better route and that is the route of elections. Politicians must have an abiding faith in the electorate…that it will do the good and correct thing. Oh yes, this will take time, but we politicians must do our work of educating, grounding and reasoning with them. Only through this process will there be a breaking out of racial patterns of voting, and a transcending of ethnic gravitations. On this score I want to say here that Indo-Guyanese politicians must be frank and fearless in allocating responsibility. To a certain extent it is an Indo-Guyanese avoidance of their pleas, a sort of non-empathy, that has made being Afro-Guyanese so disconsolate an estate.
I say all of this because the alternative to elections is political violence which, as experience and good books have taught me, is both a curse and an obstacle to accountable and legitimate government, to that same kind of government which will realize probes into Phantom Killings and Clico Debacles and so on.
No doubt political violence is one variant of the struggle for power, but in the context of a country where there is elections recognized internationally as free and fair, it is illegitimate. Ballots, not bullets, should be the pathway to power.
It is true that President Jagdeo and the PPP Government have this belief that democracy is simply one man one vote and nothing more. It is not! They have promoted the wrong features of democracy: the façade rather than the essential infrastructure. That is why they do not want those aspects of a democratic infrastructure like free public access to information, balanced political broadcasting, a culture of scrutiny of governmental affairs which realizes automatic probes into matters like Clico, extra-judicial killings, and so on.
That is why they do not want to implement the doctrine of Ministerial responsibility and accountability which realizes resignations and dismissals for even minor wrongs by Ministers, genuine and sincere consultations with stakeholders on matters affecting them, and so on.
What they want is a tyranny of the majority. The avoidance of this tyranny is what the next Government must ensure.
In a divided society such as ours we need visionaries, not political strongmen. This indulgence towards political strongmen is what I notice in these trying times we are tending to. This will be our biggest mistake.
The fundamental error in our approach to state building is to forget that a well functioning Guyana must be built not just on shared interest but on shared identity which does not come as manna from heaven, nor just grow out from the fertile soil of our coastal belt. It must be politically constructed. And this is the task of political leaderships and the intellectual class to forge. Political violence in any form will be anathema to such a construct.