“We are seen as bad exemplars due to our vocabulary and citizens are going to see it and copy it…Lawless behaviour at the top trickles down to the bottom. When leaders are negative it affects the entire society…”-Ramjattan
By Kiana Wilburg
The political discourse in Guyana is reaching an all time low. The leaders of the Opposition and the Government have often been found guilty of engaging in “inelegant” language when addressing each other in and out of the Parliament.
Many social and political activists are warning, however, that this does not augur well for Guyana’s children; the future leaders of tomorrow.
Vice Chairman of the Alliance For Change (AFC), Khemraj Ramjattan, was the first to admit that the political discourse is on a daily basis, being diminished and degenerated, particularly by the People’s Progressive Party (PPP).
Ramjattan said that the PPP he knew, which was dominated by the likes of the Jagans and the Ramkarrans, is no longer recognizable.
He insists that the time is now for the political debate to be enhanced. The AFC Executive Member said that it is important for politicians to always bear in mind that even when engaging in the trade of insults, the element of sophistication must not be absent.
Ramjattan said, “The Opposition Leader, Bharrat Jagdeo, is not good with diction or the proper use of his vocabulary. That is one of his biggest problems. Indeed, in every democracy, you will have people who will be extremely critical but the words used are what will make the democracy an advanced one as against one that is callous and degenerate.”
“And I feel that the language Jagdeo uses really makes it bad for the political discourse. I feel that when you do that, too, you make people who have to respond to you, sink to a degenerate level. We automatically try to respond in same manner to him. I have tried as best as I could to avoid such behaviour but I miss it sometimes.”
The politician added, “Prime Minister, Moses Nagamootoo and I, we are Indo-Guyanese who are called ‘Neemakharam’ when we confront him but we get the brunt of him too. We have to watch how we take it.
“I am happy Moses indicated that when Jagdeo goes low we have to go high. Our President is also one who goes high. He does not use nasty words like Jagdeo. But the political debate has to get to a higher level.”
Ramjattan said that politicians need to be mindful of their words, especially those that are “disgraceful and reprehensible” lest the political class as a unit be degenerated.
He said, “We are seen as bad exemplars due to our vocabulary and citizens are going to see it and copy it…Lawless behaviour at the top trickles down to the bottom. When leaders are negative it affects the entire society…”
Public Infrastructure Minister, David Patterson, told Kaieteur News that he agrees with his colleague implicitly while adding that politicians and other leaders should be setting the example for others to follow rather than doing the opposite.
Patterson argued that it would be difficult for today’s politicians to convince the nation’s youths that they indeed have their best interest at heart, when those very leaders are publicly “cussing down others” simply because they are from a different party.
The Public Infrastructure Minister said that the current vitriol from the political Opposition has set Guyana back by decades. He commented that it is erasing any gains the PPP claimed to have made in the realm of cohesion during its tenure.
Patterson said that thankfully, Guyana is endowed with a much more informed, youthful population which will be able to decide what is acceptable and what is not.
In providing his perspective on the matter, Executive Member of the Working People’s Alliance (WPA), Dr. David Hinds noted that both the government and the opposition have not tried hard enough for national consensus.
In the absence of that, he believes that the citizenry has felt that it has to, in the most trident way, defend the actions of the parties, whether those are wrong or not. In societies like Guyana, Dr. Hinds said that it is the responsibility of those who lead and govern, and this includes the Opposition, to ensure that the contestation for power is done within certain boundaries.
Dr. Hinds said, “You have to contest for power without destroying the fabric of the country. So there must be limits on what political parties say and do as they fight each other for power. But our political parties have no limits. They will do anything for power.”
The Executive Member of the WPA continued, “They turn the political environment into a jungle. So what we have is jungle warfare rather than political struggle. Our citizens take their cue from that kind of behaviour. And so they do not deal with issues, they engage in the political assassination of individuals who are on the other side.”
The political activist added, “And I think that has consequences for our quality of life. We treat each other as enemies rather than adversaries. It is a terrible environment for the future leaders of Guyana to be nurtured in. We are endangering the future of Guyana.”
Dr. Hinds said that at the end of the day, the integrity of a society is determined largely by the relationships that are developed in the day to day lives of our leaders. He argued that if those relationships are poisoned by the political struggle for power then the country would be in serious trouble.
The University Professor said he does not see any social cohesion being possible in the next decade in Guyana. He noted that the gridlock that existed over the selection of a Chairman for the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) brought Guyana to a place where it would not be able to recover from in a generation.
Dr. Hinds said, “I am ready to say that. Social cohesion is now an unattainable ideal. The PPP’s mobilization is ethnically grounded. One does not have to use ethnic terms to achieve ethnic ends. This happened after the 1973 elections. PPP embarked on a similar programme of noncooperation. It is nothing new. They have done this before and the outcome of that 1973 engagement had implications for the economy…”
He added, “When you say noncooperation in an ethnically sensitive environment it is division you are speaking of. You are saying to your supporters don’t cooperate with the supporters of the other side. We can’t achieve any social cohesion in that environment at all.
“It is difficult under normal circumstances and it is going to be 10 times more difficult when the other parties are saying don’t cooperate with the other side.”
As for what can be done to change this state of affairs, the University Professor said that constitutional change which is aimed at putting checks on political leaders is what is needed.
He opined that if political leaders do not want to share power based on their own convictions then the Constitution must force them to do so.
He said, “I think constitutional change is imperative if we are going to dig ourselves out of this hole in which we have found ourselves in the last week or so. When I speak of sharing of power I am not talking about sharing the spoils of office but the responsibility of ensuring that the country stays together, of holding this fragile nation together.”
The political activist stated that the battle lines have been drawn between both parties and given the coming of oil which coincides with the next election; he does not see either side backing down.
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