My attention was drawn to an observation by President Granger in his recent interview in the Guyana Review. When asked about managing the coalition, the President said that the coalition parties have a shared vision and that they work well together. Anyone who does not follow our politics closely would get the impression that all is well in the coalition. But nothing could be further from the truth. What holds the coalition together is the raw exercise of power. Beyond that, we have a coalition in name only.
That is why the president’s assertions need further examination. The President is the Head of Government, the Head of State, the Chairman of APNU, the head of the APNU+AFC coalition and the political leader of African Guyanese. He is a powerful man because he is the leader of many constituencies. His words will become sources of historical documentation; they will help shape our perception of our national politics and society. I am contending in this column that the President’s rhetoric is a mask for a coalition that functions as anything but a coalition.
The president was pronouncing on an important aspect of Guyanese politics. Some of us have been arguing for a long time that one of the big barriers to political and economic advance in Guyana and other ethnically divided countries is one-party rule. Given the acute ethnic divide and the ethnic voting patterns that arise from that condition, one-party government invariably governs in the interest of its ethnic constituency or is perceived in that way by both its supporters and detractors.
The argument is that a power-sharing government that includes elected representatives from the competing ethnic groups and their parties would avoid the pitfalls of one-party government. This thesis was first advanced from a Caribbean perspective by St. Lucian Arthur Lewis in his analysis of ethnicity in Africa and our own Eusi Kwayana who in 1961 put it forward as a practical solution to the gathering difficulties in Guyana on the eve of independence.
The problem with power sharing is that while it is philosophically grounded in the collectivist cultural traditions of the society, it runs counter to the political culture of majoritarianism and winner versus loser, which was developed during our entanglement with European colonial rule. In other words, that which is native to our culture runs counter to our adopted worldview. The spirit and culture of cooperation were central to our overcoming enslavement and colonization, but they do not find their way into our practice of governance.
Consequently, our leaders have adopted an opportunistic attitude to power-sharing. They embrace power sharing when they are in opposition and the other side is entrenched in power, but once they assume power they find convenient reasons to reject it. This has now become part of our elite political culture. After rejecting Kwayana’s joint-premiership proposal in 1961 on the eve of the PPP’s imminent victory of that year, Dr. Jagan eventually embraced it when it became obvious that local and international forces were threatening his hold on power. Similarly, after rejecting overtures by Dr. Jagan, Mr. Burnham eventually embraced the idea when the Cold War was coming to an end and his political cover was being blown off. Dr Jagan, once in power 1992-97, would then turn his back on the very power- sharing he strenuously advanced while in opposition. Desmond Hoyte would eventually embrace the idea only after it became clear that the PPP was entrenched in power and that the PNC could not win a free and fair election on its own.
Now to Mr. Granger and the APNU+AFC coalition. APNU adopted power-sharing as a platform battle cry in 2011– the first time a major political formation was bold enough to do so. This development reflected the joint thinking of Robert Corbin, Clive Thomas and Rupert Roopnarine—the principal architects of APNU. Significantly, President Granger was not part of that process, as he was not then formally into party politics.
I am arguing that power sharing was perhaps the most appealing thing about the partnership, as African Guyanese, tired of being marginalized from power for two decades, saw it as a democratic route to power. The electoral success of the APNU partnership– principally between the PNC and the WPA—created a new dynamic in Guyanese politics and reinvigorated the African Guyanese electorate, while opening new space for independent politics. It is this new dynamic that made the APNU+AFC coalition possible. For the cynics, it should be said that the WPA’s credibility on power sharing was critical in placing the idea at the centre of the early praxis of APNU.
It needs to be said that it was the coalition that produced a slight majority in 2015—not any single party. It was the APNU partnership that raised the PNC vote from 34% in 2006 to 42% by APNU in 2011. Political parties enter coalitions to achieve what they cannot do on their own. The PNC concluded after three attempts that it could not win an election on its own. Give thanks to Corbin for leading the party towards what he initially called the “big tent.”
Coalitions are partnerships—they are not single-parties. Coalition members usually have an immediate objective—achieving political power. In the case of the APNU+AFC coalition, the member parties found common ground on one thing—the electoral removal of the PPP from power. All the parties felt that the PPP had taken Guyana too far to the edge. The President is correct in making that observation that “the second thing is, within the coalition itself, people have not only a negative view of what took place of 23 years under the PPP…” That is what drove the parties and what drove their supporters to the polls.
The President then went on to say that the parties have a shared vision for Guyana. According to him, “I think within my partnership, we have shared that vision… a very positive view of where we are going and in this regard, I see our commitment to democratic ideals, our commitment to regular elections both at local government and general levels and seeing a vision of a good life for our children, in terms of education, in term equality, in term of empowerment, in terms of eradication of unemployment. These are shared views within the coalition and this is what keeps us going. It is a self-managing mechanism.”
With all due respect to His Excellency, that is a misleading statement. The three principal parties in the coalition—PNC, AFC and WPA—have little or nothing in common ideologically. They come from diametrically opposed political traditions. They have to, for they emerged at different points in our history to serve different needs in the society. It means therefore that any shared vision would have to emerge from a shared praxis while governing. But this is where I think the top leadership of the coalition has messed up badly and the President, as leader, must bear full responsibility for this failure.
The coalition as an example of power-sharing governance has been a complete failure—it has been a very anti-coalition partnership. The very principles and practices of coalition building such as respect for internal dissent, mutual respect, compromise and consensus in decision making and consultation have been stifled. Apart from the manifesto, there is no manifestation of shared vision from the coalition. There is no council within APNU and the larger coalition that facilitates the evolution of any shared vision. Therefore, the coalition is lacking in vision—it governs based on presidential edicts and Cabinet compliance. And you can’t build or sustain shared vision in such limited circumstances.
It is no accident that the issues from which vision flows or which reflect vision have not been collectively articulated. Where is the shared vision on what to do with oil and gas revenues? Where is the shared vision on industrial relations? Where is the shared vision on poverty alleviation? Where is the shared vision for an ethnically cohesive society? Where is the shared vision on the future of sugar? I think the president is confusing a shared commitment to the autocratic exercise of power with shared vision. What binds the AFC, PNC and WPA members of the cabinet together is what Allan Fenty describes as “group-think, self-preservation, new loyalties” and what I call the logic of power.
As readers would know, I am not coming at this as an outside observer—I belong to one of the parties in the coalition. There is little to no consultation and cooperation within the coalition outside of Cabinet. APNU hardly meets and when it does, it does not discuss policy or vision. As we have said on numerous occasions, the WPA, as a party, has not been consulted on any big government initiative or decision, save for the appointment of the GECOM commissioner to replace Ms. Sandra Jones.
Not the appointment of the GECOM chair or the Cabinet wage hike or the Oil and Gas contract or the teachers’ wage impasse or the sugar problem or the audits or the Venezuela situation or Local Government reform or constitutional reform. So, I am at a loss as to the “high degree of cooperation both in the partnership and in the coalition” that the president speaks about.
The president lets the cat out of the bag when he says: “I feel the senior members of my cabinet know where we are heading and there is a great deal of cohesion. That is one of the reasons why no member of the Cabinet has left the Cabinet in three years. We understand each other.”
For him, the Coalition is the Cabinet—a small group of 15 people. If the coalition is an example of “commitment to democratic ideals”, how can decision-making be confined to a small group of people. I submit that that is the kind of limited democracy that has frustrated democratic advance in our country.
Finally, the Coalition has been anti-coalition, because the PNC governmental leadership wants it both ways. It admits it cannot win an election on its own when it formed partnerships with others, but then turns around and says these parties bring nothing to the table. So, it treats partners as window dressing. Look at the upcoming local government elections. The AFC has been pushed out of the big tent to go fend for itself. This party which sacrificed its constituency in the interests of the collective is now being told to go test its strength on its own. They know fully well that the AFC support was “soft” and hinged on the expectation that the party would not allow itself to be conned by the PNC. Some may say the AFC has only itself to blame for that outcome.
The WPA has been kicked to the curb from the first day of the new government. The PNC praxis has been exposed by its behaviour—use the WPA and AFC to get the power which the PNC could not get on its own, and then once in power, govern as PNC while employing the rhetoric of “cooperation” and “shared vision.” The PPP, some AFC supporters and many WPA members will justifiably say, “we told you so.”
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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