In his analysis of the PPP’s electoral decimation, Mr Ralph Ramkarran posited that, ‘The issue of shared governance has once again been placed on the agenda by the election results.” He believes this circumstance will be intensified in future elections. He reports two views in the PPP on this device, which was proffered by Dr Jagan in 1977 as a “National Front Government” (NFG). One, that the proposal was merely tactical, to remove the PNC, and the other that it was strategic – to introduce a presumably more ‘real’ socialism than Burnham’s ‘cooperative’ version.
Mr Ramkarran, however believes, “It was not a tactic but a political strategy for long term political stability which was being adversely affected by the ethnic division of Guyana which translated into high intensity adversarial politics between two large parties deriving their support from the major ethnic blocs and which had led to authoritarian rule and which was likely to harm our development for the foreseeable future. Cheddi Jagan saw it as a long term “political solution” to bring to an end the perpetual political instability that it would forever engender.”
What was the PPP’s NFG’s “long term political strategy? Its essential governance framework was explicit: “In keeping with the realities of Guyana, it is necessary to devise a system where ‘winner does not take all’ and the two major parties and their allies are involved in the process of governing. The Constitution should provide for an Executive President, a Prime Minister and a National Assembly, elected every five years… The President shall be elected by the people as in the US and France or by the members of the National Assembly. He will preside over a Cabinet or Council of Ministers drawn from each party (which is revolutionary and agrees to a socialist-oriented programme) in proportion to its strength in the National Assembly…”
“Whichever party wins the election should not oppose the candidature for the Presidency from the other major party. At the local level, district councils should be directly elected and be based on small historically evolved, culturally homogenous communities. Regional Councils, indirectly elected through the district councils, should be given a substantial degree of autonomy. “
Mr Ramkarran mentioned the WPA’s reservations about the PNC’s participation in the NPF – that the PNC agree to ‘free and fair elections”. The PPP had also criticised the WPA’s 1979 Government of National Reconstruction and National Unity proposal (“a dependent capitalist government” – ) even though Dr Rodney had noted, “Inevitably the working people must play a leading role in such a government…One can sum up the national question by saying that all classes in Guyana have an objective interest in unity”. But these ‘socialistic” concerns have all been overtaken by events. Not so the response of Mr Burnham.
The founder-leader of the PNC gave that party’s most comprehensive rationale against “power sharing” and “coalitions” when he rejected the NFG’s proposal. He declared that some, “advisers suggest that the ideal way (to bring about national unity) is to ensure an understanding or coalition between leaders amongst whom offices and patronage are then distributed on an agreed basis. This technique is only superficially attractive.
“In the first place, it assumes that each leader will, like the general in an army, keep his constituency intact and that the latter can be approached through him. In other words, they are like two or more warlords who from time to time bargain for their personal groups and hopefully maintain an unstable truce. The argument then degenerates into a squabble, thinly veiled at times, over power and office. In the second place, an understanding or compromise between leaders is no guarantee of unity amongst the rank and file. In the third place, much of the talk about unity is not based on class but on ethnicity, regardless of class. Where is the socialist content of such “unity”?”
Mr Burnham’s concerns about the ‘unstable truce’ that characterises most coalitions in divided societies are exacerbated when the demographics are fluid as they are in Guyana. We saw this play out disastrously in Lebanon, one of the first countries that attempted the ‘consociational’ approach – when the Christians lost their majority. Mr Burnham’s sly dismissal of the PPP’s concerns about ‘racial discrimination’ as ‘false consciousness”, has also been overtaken by events. So how do we deal with Mr Ramkarran’s ‘ethnic question”, which will not go away?
We once again propose that as intermediate steps, the parties accept ‘ethnic caucuses’ within their overarching structures, address ethnic imbalances in the state, form a Government of National Unity for one term (as South Africa did), and have parliament act as a Constituent Assembly which would draft a new Constitution to form a Federal Republic of Guyana.
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