Power sharing does not require trust, but power sharing without trust will quickly descend into power grabbing.
Power sharing failed in Northern Ireland. Constitutionally entrenched power sharing was contemptuously ignored in Fiji. In Zimbabwe, where there was a negotiated process of power sharing following disputed elections, power sharing at the level of the executive has been rendered useless. The much-celebrated power sharing agreement in South Africa collapsed very early.
Power sharing has failed to bring about any form of unity between the factions involved, failed to bring about reconciliation and failed to achieve an effective working relationship between the conflicting parties. Power sharing does not require trust, but without trust, power sharing will descend into chaos.
In Guyana, several attempts at power sharing and political reconciliation got nowhere. In the days of Walter Rodney, the WPA proposed a power sharing proposal to reconstruct the country given the severe economic wounds that the then ruling PNC had inflicted on the society. The WPA made it clear then that the PNC could not become part of their power sharing arrangement. It saw no place for the PNC in a unity government.
Reconstruction has been achieved without a unity government. Whether power sharing would have hastened the reconstruction process is contestable. Guyana achieved economic reconstruction despite the protracted decline in political relations.
The government itself has been obstructionist and has failed to offer any meaningful concessions to the opposition, with or without pressure. In fact, the greater the opposition pressure, the stronger the government became, and this emboldened them to resist making any serious concessions to the administration.
Burnham was never serious about power sharing. He always used that to remind the Americans that if they did not relax their pressures on him, he could always turn to their arch rival, Cheddi Jagan, the man who the Americans feared the most, other than Fidel Castro.
The present ruling regime in Guyana also has just reason for being cautious in reaching out to the opposition. The main opposition has been duplicitous in its dealing with the ruling party. According to the ruling party, the opposition failed to honour informal agreements concerning the allocation of positions on local government bodies after the last local government elections and after the 2006 regional elections.
The main opposition, therefore, and in so far as the ruling party is concerned, cannot be fully trusted to keep its end of the bargain. The lack of trust is responsible for the poor state of relations between the ruling party and the government, and this is not going to help the cause of power sharing. At the same time, some of the very persons who have been plugging for power sharing have exposed their true nature.
When the President of Guyana went into one community, certain activists protested the welcome that he received. It was almost made out as if the President had no right to be there at all. How then can one build an effective power sharing relationship when such sentiments are expressed?
The ruling party has no doubt been left with the clear impression that the real intentions of its critics are not at all about power sharing but about power. Trust is missing, and building trust is required to bridge the chasm and not necessarily to ensure the success of power sharing.
This is something that is not appreciated. If there is a breakdown in relations between two parties, there first has to be some basis for bridging the differences. Some process of building trust is necessary, which can then lead to discussions about power sharing which requires convergence on other issues.
Differences have to be overcome. In order to bridge these differences there is a need for developing a working arrangement. Establishing this relationship requires trust. But when one leader called for building this trust by sharing power at the least common denominator, it was rejected outright since it was claimed that what was necessary is not power sharing activists, what is needed is not power sharing at the lower levels but at the highest levels. That is, it is power at the top that matters, not the building of trust from the bottom up.
Those still serious about power sharing, those still able to muster the political will to pursue this line, must accept that what matters is not any arrangement of power sharing, but rather one that genuinely secures the concerns of all sides. And this involves building trust, however discredited this notion has become because of the attitude of the ruling party towards the sharing of political responsibility.
Trust can only be built by working together. This can happen within parliament and outside of parliament, but this working together must not be seen as an end to itself, but rather as the means towards a more inclusive relationship.
By now it should be clear to all that the government is only keen on working with others based on its own terms. But a new government will come into power later this year with a new President, and even though it seems now clear that the PPP will win the presidency, it must not be assumed that the new leader will simply follow in the footsteps of his predecessor when it comes to inclusive governance.
Inclusive governance can only get better, not worse. But just how far inclusive governance will go and whether it will lead to power sharing depends on the building of trust after the elections would have finished.
The successful party always has a greater obligation to make a magnanimous gesture to the vanquished. And this has to take the form of more than words, because we have had a lot of words about political inclusiveness but very little meaningful progress.
But it would not do any harm for serious attempts at building trust and having improved relationships from the opposition also. After all, it takes two or more to come together.
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