Both Kaieteur News (in KN 25th October, “Changing alliances and voter shift”) and Stabroek News (in SN 30th October, “Re-alignment”) have editorialized on the “re-alignments, coalitions, annexions and defections” (SN’s words) that have taken place most dramatically in recent weeks.
Both papers speculated on how these changes are likely to impact voting patterns. Understandably, the two papers played it safe, merely concluding that only time and the election results could tell. The KN grandly postulated, however, that the “results of the elections will most certainly be a lesson in the sociology of politics in Guyana.” All true.
But should we want to predict the possible shifts in voting patterns come November, what should we look at? Guyana’s political history and racial composition suggest that voting patterns are likely to shift for two main reasons.
Firstly, some would cross the floor to vote (especially for the ruling or incumbent party) because of actual or potential material inducements, self-preservation, desire to walk the halls of power, and other hoped-for personal gains. Incumbency carries a natural advantage anywhere.
Such being the case, expect to see the PPP/C presenting several goodies in November targeting the Afro-Guyanese electorate, probably including an 8-10 percent pay hike for public servants. Shifts in voting patterns as a result of such handouts and hand-downs are, however, fickle and oft-times unpredictable. Moreover, the scheme puts the political party under strain because these are high-maintenance relationships; these voters have to be kept constantly “sweet”.
But secondly and more seriously, fundamental change in traditional voting patterns in Guyana can occur only when there is a widespread change in people’s belief that they would not face disadvantages as citizens because of their race or political affiliation should the “other” party form the government.
If I perceive that my rights and due entitlements would be no less than those of other Guyanese, it weakens my ethnic voting reflex and allows me to consider other factors (party policies, charisma and likeability of leaders, my future opportunities, etc).
Just as important, if I believe that any rights and entitlements given to me (or to members of the ethnic group with whom I identify) are not genuine but are part of a devious political calculation, then I am likely to remain a traditional voter. My dignity and self-respect are important to me too.
In looking for these reassurances to vote non-traditionally, the most important factor is my belief that they will be individuals or groups of sufficient clout in the new government to safeguard my concerns and reduce my ethnic anxieties. People in diverse societies only feel a strong sense of ethnic security when they are represented in the national government by people they themselves consider to be their representatives.
This has been the main building block of power-sharing arrangements the world over, including those brokered by the UN.
It is this second factor that makes the recent coalitions (starting with the launch of APNU), re-alignments and defections interesting.
Do these re-fashioned political forces have the potential to reduce ethnic fears and insecurities among sections of the electorate? Will enough traditional voters feel that there are more advantages than disadvantages for themselves, their ethnic groups and their country in voting their conscience instead of their reflex or instinct?
In assessing (or in predicting) the election results for “a lesson in the sociology of politics in Guyana”, we should look at three critical situations:
Firstly, has the APNU coalition, with its broad-based political leadership, the “de-Burnhamization” of the PNCR component, and its solemn charter to form a multi-party government, done enough to attract cross-over Indo-Guyanese and Amerindian voters?
Secondly, has the AFC, with its strong play in Indo-Guyanese communities and the Ramjattan-Nagamootoo factor, done enough to reassure traditional voters that a weakened PPP/C will put them at no disadvantage? And thirdly, will the PPP/C, with its advantage of the treasury, be able to lure enough Afro-Guyanese and Amerindian votes to drink from the cup?
It doesn’t require deep insight to realize that the PPP/C election strategy is ruthlessly moving to keep the political dynamics in its favour.
The strategy is simple: keep ethnic fears high among Indo-Guyanese, while offering inducements to other ethnic groups.
My prediction? The election results will lead to an APNU-led government of national unity. That said, it remains the APNU’s monumental task right now (in the midst of the mad-cow disease that apparently has infected the PPP campaign) to convince its supporters why the PPP/C must be invited to join.
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