Silly things in the silly season
One incident sometimes brings out the worst elements of an elections campaign. And it depends on who happens to be the victim that would determine the corner from which the cries would come. This past week there were reports of a political meeting hosted by the ruling party in a village known for its opposition support.
According to reports, insults were traded, bricks and bottles hurled; there were in your face clashes and eventually some rounds were discharged. The person discharging the rounds claimed that he felt threatened.
In the wake of the incident some media houses decided to downplay what happened because of wanting to avoid any semblance of hostility during the elections. They weighed the facts, recognized that there was the clear fact that some people could misconstrue the incident for a racial episode and opted to transmit a story that did not truly reflect what happened.
The state media played it for what it was worth—a disruption of a meeting of the ruling party by people from the main opposition party. There is the widely held belief that once one speaks of the ruling party, one is speaking of people of East Indian ancestry; when the conversation shifts to the main opposition party people conclude that they are talking about people of African ancestry.
However, in this case, the victims were Guyanese of African ancestry as were most of the members of the aggressive forces.
Hostile crowds are common to the election campaign. There has never been a political campaign without some report of a crowd being hostile to the campaigner. In many cases, good sense would prevail. But there is heckling to the point of antagonizing each other; rotten eggs have flown and public address systems have been taken down.
It is for this reason that the party campaigning in a hostile community would do so in broad daylight; they would use night to operate in their strongholds.
This antagonistic behaviour is however reserved for the ‘silly season’. At the end of the day everyone recognizes the need to live together. In fact, in many cases people know whom each other supports and that is no hindrance in their daily lies. Why it becomes an issue at this time of the impending elections must be because people suddenly recognize that it is a win-lose situation; that they are now combatants like boxers in a ring.
History would record that there was no such animosity prior to the 1960s. Indeed there was always ethnic distrust and the corresponding ethnic tolerance. There was a chance for this distrust to disappear when the nation united against the colonial rulers and formed the People’s Progressive Party. That ended when Dr Cheddi Jagan and Forbes Burnham parted company.
It would seem that the political situation is deteriorating. In 2001 the election authorities saw the need for a media code of conduct. Then in 2006 they saw the need for a political code of conduct. These codes were intended to restrain behaviour; to ensure that no one incited to violence or behaved in any way as to bring issues of race, gender or religion into negative focus.
It must be that we are either less respectful of each other or more thin-skinned than our predecessors. It could also be that people hold their politics and their politicians more dearly than those in the days of yore. Whatever the case the administrators have a fear that the country could degenerate into chaos. And they have every good reason to.
The rulers appear to be more corrupt than their predecessors while the people feel that they are all being exploited. It is this that makes them feel this measure of antagonism toward which ever ruler is in office if that person appears to be different in appearance and seems to favour those who look like him or her.
But for all this there should not be any hostility. Violent actions set the country back.