One of the easiest things to do when we are frustrated is to hit out at others. We so often like to blame other people for not doing what we would desire them to do without asking why people act this way.
Most persons act in their interest and these interests may not always be consistent with our own. Instead of, however, trying to ascertain why people behave in a certain way, we decide to judge them and in the process to condemn them.
After the PNC had brought Guyana to its knees and reduced it to the second poorest nation in the hemisphere, there was widespread feeling among the then opposition parties that the PNC would be routed in the 1992 election. The prediction was that the PNC would not secure more than ten per cent of the votes. After all, this was the party that had abused its hold on power and reduced the nation to paupers.
The elections were held, and the results shocked many, since the PNC gained in excess of forty per cent of the votes. Instead of being humiliated at the polls, the PNC attracted thirty-three per cent more of the votes than they expected. On the other hand, a party which was seen as multi-racial and which was expected by the pundits to do well in the elections only managed to secure 2% of the total votes cast.
No one bothered to assail the African Guyanese community whose support was instrumental in the PNC’s strong showing in those polls. No one accused anyone of having incomprehensible minds. It became clear then, as it did in all subsequent elections, that there was an ethnic security dilemma which led to the polarized voting patterns.
In the run-up to the 1997 elections, the PNC had wooed its supporters with the slogan about knowing what they have and not knowing what they will get. But that cannot explain the sustained polarized voting patterns that were replicated in all future elections, including 2006. What explains it is ethnic insecurity, where each of the major ethnic groups have fears of their future should the group to which they do not belong assume political office.
People in the final analysis act in their interest, and when this interest is conditioned by ethnic insecurity then we will have results as we have had in elections since 1992. The solution is not to bash East Indians and accuse them of having incomprehensible minds. The solution is to appreciate that the people vote in accordance to what they perceive as their interests.
Now this may not always be the liking of all of us, but it is for the political contestants to be able to give assurances to all of the major groups in Guyana that their interests will be respected and preserved in any future government. This requires hard work and relevant political stratagems. It requires granting assurances to the ethnic groups that they should not fear marginalization, discrimination and victimization under a new government. But history is not on the side of those wishing to make this argument because people want more than just promises.
There are many supporters of the PPP who may be willing to break ranks, but they do not wish to do so at the expense of the PNC coming back to power and history repeating itself. This is why a third force alternative is so attractive. But a third force alternative will continue to fall victim to the ethnic security dilemmas until such time as it is clear to the main ethnic groups that a third force can win.
A one-time political aspirant, Mr. Vic Puran had consistently argued that once the people are sure that a third force can win, they will vote for that third force. This is why any strategy of third parties wishing to offer themselves as an alternative to the PNCR and the PPP, must entail them not just presenting themselves as seeking to merely hold the balance of power, but rather to demonstrate that they can win. By merely seeking to hold the balance of power, the third parties are shooting themselves in the foot, or rather, exposing themselves to be undermined by the ethnic security dilemmas.
One of the mistakes of political agitators is to assume that they could dictate what the people should do. In the final analysis, the people can only be presented with choices. If the people are not ready for change, then what is needed is not abuse and vilification, but a thorough understanding of the interests at work and how these can be assuaged in the hope of overcoming the obstacles to change.
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