Democratic and just behaviour
The main argument of this paper is that the longevity of the monopolization of political power by one ethnic group in multi-racial societies depends on the nature of its exercise. The ethnic fulcrum of absolute power is not an idea that finds rejection among the controlling racial community. Once power is used in the interest of the race group, its members are content to condone and support the permanent access to power
It is when the monopolization begins to take on elements of corruptibility and moral turpitude that its time span becomes jeopardized. Guyana has seen two examples of such a process. The first was in the Forbes Burnham regime. African Guyanese saw politics in a zero sum game in the immediate post-colonial period.
Through a brilliant interpretation of Guyanese sociology, Mr. Burnham successfully explained to African constituencies that the two major communities –African and Indian— coexisted in a plural society where each one constituted a distinct world. Indians were in agriculture, capitalist activities and were rural folks with their own cultural institutions and religion.
Africans were public-oriented individuals whose existence could be found in education, academia and public institutions. Mr. Burnham adumbrated an ideology of African survival based on its numerical disadvantage. If free elections were allowed, Africans would be dominated by a competing ethnic community that had already had economic power and would merge it with political power if the Indian-led PPP Government would win at election time.
An erudite Burnham warned African Guyanese that Indian hegemony would result in the disappearance of African worth in a country that freed slaves helped to create. Looking at the present shape of political sociology in Guyana, Mr. Burnham was way ahead of his time.
From 1968 to 1978, Mr. Burnham’s monopolization of power was accepted by African Guyanese. As Mr. Burnham consolidated his rule and as his power base widened, authoritarian features appeared in his governorship. The post-colonial support that Burnham received from the African middle class and trade union movement began to wane.
The post-colonial expectations of the masses added to the weakening of the Burnham regime.
A monarchial constitution, dictatorial behaviour, militarization of the society and oppressive policies made the Burnham Government an unpopular administration. An African opposition to the Burnham Government took shape led by brilliant members of the African middle class which found expression in the Working People’s Alliance. Through the activities of the WPA, African constituencies defected from Burnham’s authoritarian agenda. By the time his party lost power in 1992, Africans had lost hope in their party, the PNC.
The 1992 general election brought the Indian-led PPP Government to power. Openly hostile to African Guyanese and blatantly discriminating against African Guyanese, East Indians in Guyana solidly voted four times for the PPP in general elections stretching from 1992 to 2006.
By 2001, Indians took satisfaction in their domination of the Guyanese society through the mechanism of their party, the PPP.
By 2006 after the successful extermination of a devastating criminal syndrome, the monopolization of power was complete. But there was a difference with the previous absolutism under President Burnham. By 2006, the monopolization of power was more extensive. The ruling PPP had gone beyond the Burnham regime in shaping Guyana into a one-dimensional society. In no other CARICOM territory was state control over the society so extensive.
Indians were content to accept this because it benefited them. State policies favoured Indians and marginalized Africans.
By 2007, a creeping fascistization showed its ugly head in the exercise of power. This was accompanied by unimaginable levels of corruption, incompetence and immorality. A 2003 covenant with drug traffickers to fight a criminal network led to the establishment of a semi-narco state with horrible consequences for social stability.
The post 2006 Indian Government in Guyana not only displayed incredible levels of arrogance and inhuman attitudes but its President began to exceed the excesses of President Burnham.
In a strange but fascinating repetition of history, an Indian middle class began to defect from the authoritarian agenda. By 2009, the opposition party, the Alliance for Change had among its leaders Indian professionals and many rich Diaspora Indians who were simply disgusted with the corruption and immoral conduct of the Indian led PPP.
Outside of the AFC, Indian voices began to take shape against the Government. This situation has climaxed in an election campaign where all the signs point to a loss of power through a voting pattern that would see a large percentage of Indians voting against their own ethnic party. We can call this the final exit for the Indians from a long journey of support for power monopolization
The point of this essay is that ethnically based power could last for a long time once it is accompanied by the careful use of authority with consistent moments of democratic and just behaviour. The supporting ethnic base will withdraw its support once it is convinced that a destructive course will continue if its own leaders remain in power.
We end with an established fact that is of immense sociological importance. It wasn’t Indian pressure that undermined the Burnham Government. It was the relentlessness that came from African Guyanese. In the case of the PPP regime, it is the gradual alienation of East Indians that has caused the loss of confidence which translated into electoral defeat. What this means is that the pattern in Guyana reveals that ethnically based power can only be dissolved by the very members of the race group that originally benefited from such power.