Some people have asked me to explain why the current government, despite its many promises to govern differently from the PPP, has turned out to be no different from its predecessors as far as far as political culture is concerned.
Let me be clear, there are some things that this government should be commended for, but when one looks at its overall attitude to big overarching things such as respect for dissent and other fundamental human rights , one cannot find any decisive break with the past.
After three years in office, Guyana’s democratic architecture remains as fragile as it was when the PPP left office. The little hope that the plural nature of the government—the fact that it is a coalition—would help it to be different, has been dashed. Unfortunately, Guyana will remain a dysfunctional State for a long time.
Part of the failure of the government, to be transformative, lies in the inability of the AFC and WPA to exert transformative influence on the process of governance. The AFC, given its numerical strength within the government, is better placed to lead the charge in this direction. But that party’s pretense that it is a change agent was quickly exposed once it got into office.
It has not pursued a single big policy item it championed while in opposition nor has it used the threat of veto, which it has, to bring about any change of direction by the government. This dereliction of duty by the AFC has made it easier for the PNC faction to consolidate its hegemony within the government.
The WPA, with no independent electoral base, is in a weaker position to influence anything within the government. The WPA’s greatest weapon in the government is not a veto, but its potential for open dissent as a corrective measure, which no government likes. But it tempered this potential for too long, so by the time it began to speak out, it was too late to have the desired effect. The party’s decision to be passive, undermined its ability to serve as a change agent.
The outcome of the AFC and WPA failure to serve as checks on the PNC has dented any possibility of transformation by the government. The assumption here is that the PNC, like the PPP, has little interest in transformation—it would have to be forced in that direction. The PNC as a party was not even interested in coalition politics, but thanks to pressure by one leading member, it went in that direction, because it concluded it was the party’s only route to power.
In other words, partnership and coalition politics for the PNC and PPP are not ends in themselves, but means to desired ends. While some elements in the AFC and WPA may still hope that those two parties stand up to the PNC’s hegemony, I am afraid it’s too late—things are far gone in the direction of business as usual.
The other big factor in the government’s inability to be transformative lies in the country’s ethno-racial dynamics. Ethnicity is a cultural construct that is grounded in group differences. Race is a political construct that attaches biological and socio-political meaning based on superiority-inferiority to those differences. That is why some of us use the term “ethno-racial.” Race is a biological illusion, but it is a very powerful socio-political phenomenon that influences laws, political and economic policies, political behaviour, emotions and cultural reflexes.
Ethnicity in Guyana functions mostly as Race. The average Guyanese, including political leaders, would swear to high heavens that he or she does not act based on racial considerations. Some would even accuse people like me of racism, for daring to raise the issue of race. The truth is that most Guyanese are deeply influenced by ethno-racial considerations. But they don’t realize it because it is so normative—when behaviour becomes normal, it is often manifested as unconscious action.
It is no secret that the majority African Guyanese and Indian Guyanese attitude to the PPP and PNC respectively, is influenced by ethno-racial considerations. And those parties in turn use that factor as both a mobilizing tool and as a motivating factor for policies. The consequence is that the two ethnic communities are unlikely to sanction the parties for bad governance.
The PPP’s extreme behaviour while in government cannot be divorced from the uncritical support of Indian Guyanese for most of its 23 years in office. Although a small minority of that community’s vote was pivotal in ousting the PPP, once the Coalition government showed its hands with the AFC being complicit, they returned to the PPP’s fold.
While there is considerable African Guyanese dissatisfaction with the policies and overall behaviour of the government, the group’s ethnic insecurities and fears lead to an uncritical attitude to those in office. Even the generally independent African Guyanese middle class types are going along with the ride. The PNC faction in government knows fully well that African Guyanese solidarity would prevent that group from protesting government over-reach. And just as it took Indian Guyanese rebellion to manners the PPP, it would take African Guyanese rebellion to sober up this government and return it to its stated path. But that is not going to happen while the Coalition is in government. However, when it comes to elections, the independent African Guyanese vote may well be the government undoing. In the end, democratic governance remains elusive.
More of Dr. Hinds ‘writings and commentaries can be found on his YouTube Channel Hinds’ Sight: Dr. David Hinds’ Guyana-Caribbean Politics and on his website www.guyanacaribbeanpolitics.news. Send comments to [email protected]
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