The elections campaign in Guyana is fast drifting away from the concerns that should inform voters’ choices. It is fast moving away from policies, programmes and the track-records of the various parties.
It is also going in directions that have caused the private sector to issue a statement expressing disapproval over the level of acrimony in the campaign.
What was repugnant about the statement was that it did not identify the principal culprit of this acrimony, which is one individual from one party. By not identifying this person, the private sector may be conveying the false impression that there is more than one source of political acrimony.
The opposition parties have not in the main resorted to acrimonious debate and personal abuse during the election campaign so far. The same cannot be said of the ruling party, whose rallies have been punctuated by uncalled for attacks of a personal nature.
This is of course election season and these things are to be expected. But the private sector, which is obviously concerned about the possible effects of an acrimonious campaign in their own businesses in the run-up to the critical Christmas season, should not be as diplomatic as it is, since this conveys the wrong impression about the campaign so far.
The elections campaign is fast descending into a catfight of defections, floor-crossing and endorsements. All the political parties are trying to have persons who were either members of or associated with their political rivals to come over to their camps.
The political value of these endorsements is questionable and represents more of a psychological advantage than anything else.
What we are therefore witnessing is psychological warfare between the parties rather than them concentrating on selling their policies and track-record to the Guyanese people.
Endorsements are an American thing. In the American electoral system you have television hosts and celebrities endorsing candidates, and this counts in that country’s system, where often the personalities going to the polls are more important than the parties they represent.
The same does not apply to Guyana, even though we are trying our utmost to imitate the American election culture with its emphasis on individuals and televised debates between the respective candidates.
The persons crossing over, defecting, jumping-ship or simply endorsing another party are not going to be as influential in Guyana as in the United States because our system does not attach the same level of importance to celebrity status. What it does is it creates a psychological advantage, and this is the gamesmanship that is taking place between the parties at this stage of the campaign.
The private sector and the opposition parties would no doubt prefer to have a debate about policies, but the electorate cannot be only concerned about policies when making a decision on which party to support. They also have to consider the record of the parties when in power and also when in opposition.
In establishing their respective records, either as governments or as opposition parties, it may become necessary for the parties to be strongly critical of each other. There is nothing illegitimate about this once it does not descend into slander and personal attacks. As such some accommodation has to be made for criticisms that may be sharp and at times scathing.
There is nothing illegitimate about a party attacking another party, once it does not descend into slander or personal abuse. If this is what the private sector finds disturbing and acrimonious, it should return to its shell.
The private sector is pursuing its own interests when it issues a statement about the level of acrimony but refuses to identify or condemn this source. It wants to eat its cake and have it too. It wants to ensure that it does not attract the ire or displeasure of the government while at the same time seeking to ensure that the campaign does not deteriorate into a mudslinging contest which can have repercussions on the business climate.
The position is perfectly understandable and is shared by many ordinary citizens who also want to see at the end of these elections that the parties set aside their differences and work together.
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