The difference at the 2011 and 2015 elections was made by a combination of a section of Indian Guyanese electorate which rebelled against the PPP and cast their lot with the AFC, and the Independent section of the African Guyanese electorate who had rebelled against the PNC and voted AFC in 2006, but cast their lot with APNU in 2011 and 2015. What those two groups had and have in common was/is their dislike of the politics of the PPP and PNC. They voted for the Coalition in 2011 and 2015 not because of the PNC but despite the PNC—they voted for the idea of a Government of National Unity.
In fact, many of those voters hoped that the PNC would not behave in old ways once it got into power as part of the coalition. Despite changes in the leadership of the PNC from the bad old days, there was still the perception among most Indian Guyanese and independent African Guyanese that the party’s political culture had not changed—that it was still instinctively authoritarian.
In that regard, it was expected that the AFC, and to a lesser extent the WPA, would act as checks and balances within the government—that they would be the watchdogs of democratic governance. This was and continues to be my reading of the outcome of the 2015 election.
If one accepts that thesis, then the PNC also had a big responsibility. To my mind, it had to do two main things to make the government work and to keep the partnership together. First, it had to restrain itself from over-imposing the PNC on the Coalition. In other words, it had to ensure that the Coalition did not govern as PNC.
Second, it had to do everything within its power to ensure that it does nothing that smells of dictatorship and electoral malpractice. In so doing, it would uphold the democratic integrity of the government and deny the PPP any ammunition for its inevitable charges of dictatorship and election rigging.
If the PNC could restrain itself and act tactfully and maturely, then the AFC and WPA’s task would be less difficult. A successful outcome would benefit the Coalition in three important ways. It would make it easier to hold on to those two swing constituencies for the next election, it would effectively negate the PPP’s stated agenda of demonization and more importantly, it would give the Coalition space to introduce a new political culture at the level of governance.
Unfortunately, after three years, none of those expectations have been met. The PNC’s leadership in the government has directly and indirectly led the government as if it were a one-party PNC government. It has denied the WPA any meaningful governmental space, and while it could not do the same to the AFC thanks to the Cummingsburg Accord, it has skillfully outmaneuvered that party in the exercise of ultimate decision-making.
The PNC’s tactic has been two-fold — confine decision-making to the Cabinet, where it has a decisive majority, and actively utilize the all-powerful presidency, which is constitutionally independent of all other government and non-government organs. It simultaneously immobilized APNU and ensured the APNU-AFC organs envisaged by the Cummingsburg Accord never got off the ground. This approach has silenced the AFC and WPA which have been caught between the proverbial rock and a hard place.
Neither party wants to be seen as undermining a government that they are part of, even when that government makes unpopular moves. In fact, over time, the AFC has co-owned many of those unpopular moves while the WPA, through a combination of factors, has been rendered powerless to the point of being in government in name only.
I say all the above to argue that decisions have consequences. The decision by the PNC leadership to go in the direction described above has had consequences for where we are headed in 2020. Over the last few weeks the PPP has tactfully turned the spotlight on GECOM. The government, led by the PNC, is always vulnerable to three charges—electoral rigging, authoritarianism and ethnic favouritism. And the PPP has skillfully brought these three together these last few weeks.
Remember, months ago the PPP forced the president to unilaterally name the GECOM chair—a decision that was constitutionally in order, but politically senseless. It gave the PPP the ammunition it needed for its narrative–the government is planning to rig in 2020 and it needed its own handpicked GECOM chair to spearhead this plan.
Then it charges that GECOM personnel are mostly African Guyanese by design, not by ethnic choices in employment as is the correct explanation. Then it uses the occasion of the hiring of the person to fill a high-powered position in which the casting vote of the GECOM chair was decisive as proof of its case.
Mr. Jagdeo then declares that rigging is on its way and that his party would mobilize its constituency to fight back. Whatever one thinks of the PPP and its politics in and out of government, one must conclude that over the last three years it has played the government like a sweet song. While the PNC has been busy outmaneuvering its coalition partners, the PPP has been equally busy outmaneuvering the Coalition.
It doesn’t matter what the Coalition says or does between now and 2020 and beyond, it will always be on the defensive–the tag of rigged election has already stuck, thanks to the fact that the government is seen and governs as the PNC, the party with the image of rigging.
If the Coalition wins in 2020, its victory would be framed by the PPP as fraudulent and the government would not be recognized. If the 1997 election, when the PNC charged the PPP with rigging and refused to recognize the PPP government, is anything to go by, then Guyana is in for a rough ride.
We have got to this point partly because of the PPP’s ability to study its opponent, bait them, control the political discourse, and engage in the worst form of political hypocrisy. And partly because the government either lacks political brains or if it does have, it doesn’t use them—it has made political decisions that feed the PPP’s agenda and weakens its own position as the agent of democratic advance.
The simple truth is that the PNC leadership in government cannot defend itself against charges of rigging, which is key to holding those Indian Guyanese and African Guyanese independents who voted for it in 2011 and 2015.
Ironically, it would take the voices of the marginalized AFC and WPA and the independent supporters of the Coalition, some of whom have been banned from the State Media on the orders of the top leadership of the government, to beat back the PPP’s propaganda and dig the government out of the hole it finds itself in.
The PNC leadership put the Coalition in the hole and it is now the burden of the underlings to salvage the situation. Decisions have consequences. Party politics in Guyana is ignorant.
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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