First, Minister Lawrence’s comments must be contextualized. They come in the wake of the massive defeat of the PNC at the Local Government elections, which I have dubbed a mini-general election. The PNC used the APNU label, but it fought the elections as PNC. It got 34% of the vote, the same percentage it got at the 2006 general election—the last time the party contested an election in its own name.
In an irony of ironies, the PNC set out to expose the AFC’s electoral weakness but ended up exposing its own severe weakness which is that by itself, it is the second largest electoral party, but it cannot win an election on its own.
It is against that background that Minister Lawrence’s comments must be read. She is responding to that embarrassing defeat which they have admitted is largely the result of neglecting their base of mainly African Guyanese poor people and working class. So, she is speaking to that base.
But in the absence of real policy initiatives to pitch to that group, she has to resort to crude clientelism. I read her “PNC friends” to mean African Guyanese. She is a political operative and knows what she is saying. But because the contemporary PNC leadership has never mastered the art of creatively addressing our ethno-racial problem, they have to fall back on this crude narrative that borders on party-racial clientelism.
Let’s be clear—Minister Lawrence is addressing a fundamental problem in our political economy—the ethnic imbalance in awarding contracts and the implications for the African Guyanese community.
The recent PPP government institutionalized ethno-racial imbalance in procurement, in employment in critical high salaried sectors, in housing and in management of other key socio-economic sectors. The coalition government came to power and did absolutely nothing policy-wise to address that imbalance.
In fact, in sectors such as the public service, education, small business and the armed forces, they did everything to frustrate increase in wages and opportunities. A living-wage policy would have gone a long way towards correcting that imbalance. A small business policy, whereby small business people including vendors have access to capital, would have had the same outcome.
So, in the absence of policy, the Minister has to resort to demagoguery and appeal to clientelism. My prediction is that that approach would not fly. African Guyanese would see through opportunism and the PPP and Indian Guyanese would invariably view it as racial favoritism and racial discrimination. The problem with that approach is that it comes across as rank opportunism and crude ethno-racial pandering. It is the same thing with the budget—a lot of little goodies which resemble Christmas presents.
What Guyanese of all races need are not small goodies, but real policy initiatives aimed at structurally breaking the back of poverty and a levelling of the playing field in the awarding of contracts and other related economic action for the Amerindian and African Guyanese private sector.
The other problem with the Minister’s remarks has to do with naked disregard for the principles of partnership and coalition. The PNC leadership from the President right down has not learned how to balance party loyalty with respect for coalition—they inevitably come down on the side of party hegemony. We hear this repeatedly in the Minister’s speech.
If one is not familiar with Guyanese politics, one would assume that it was the PNC that won the election in 2015. Again, in the absence of a strategy and a rhetoric that combines party loyalty with the overriding reality of a coalition government, the Minister resorts to what she knows best—party hegemony.
But such rhetoric is counter-productive. Can’t the Minister see that it is the very PNC-centered approach to governance that brought the results down from 51% in 2015 to 34% in 2018? You won as part of a coalition in 2015 and you lost on your own in 2018. What does that tell you? Clearly, it can’t be more of the same. You simply cannot win any election with the traditional PNC base—it is 34% of the electorate.
To move from 34% to 51%, you have to do what the Robert Corbin-led PNC did—embrace coalition politics even with arch-enemies and “small parties.” Those small parties have what you don’t have. One would have thought that after the defeat, the PNC would move hastily to resuscitate APNU and to deepen the Coalition outside of Cabinet.
In the absence of such common-sense moves, Minister Lawrence touts PNC hegemony as the winning formula for 2020. I can predict now that that is a recipe for losing in 2020.
In the final analysis, the Minister’s comments, though understandable, are very disappointing. They are reflective of a failed Coalition which has not responded effectively to the needs of even its own constituency. What is urgently needed is visionary leadership at the top, aimed at rekindling the idea and spirit of partnership and coalition, and crafting short and long term policies not to buy votes, but to restore confidence among the population that a post-one party democratic Guyana is possible. As reassuring as the Minister’s rhetoric may be to some PNC diehards, it is unhelpful to the electoral success of the partnership and coalition. It does not give comfort to independent African Guyanese, Amerindians and Indian Guyanese.
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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