Much has been written on the “declining” support of the AFC. I see lots of writings and heard many people said/say that AFC has lost its support from 2011 and 2015. That may well be the case. However, is it the only party that has lost support? Where has the “lost” support gone? Which parties are the beneficiaries? One can only answer these questions by conducting a scientific survey.
I traveled around the country conducting opinion polls, and I heard repeated expressions of disappointment in the AFC for failing to keep its promises and for not holding the government accountable and for not speaking out against corruption. There were echoes in my ear of political betrayal by the AFC and of failing to attend to the needs of its supporters who gave it 11% support in 2011 that may have increased in 2015. Nevertheless, AFC supporters and others also expressed disappointment in the other two parties as well. Publicly, they may condemn the AFC and speak ill of it as indeed some did in private conversations. But in interviews with poll enumerators, they noted that they are not pleased with the alternatives. Therefore, the choice facing AFC supporters (swing voters, in particular) are not many as they complain that the two dominant parties have not made themselves very attractive to swing voters. Not surprisingly, AFC has not been totally blanked by everyone who supported it in 2011 and 2015.
One cannot use the voter support of November 2018 to make an accurate prediction of the support base of the AFC for the general elections. If the party contests on its own in the general elections, it could do well though it may not repeat its performance in 2011 and 2015. The party did not contest everywhere in 2018. In some seats, its percentage was around 11% — which is what it received in 2011. Because voter turnout in local elections tends to be very low – just about a third of the general elections turnout – one cannot conclude that AFC is dead. What is interesting is the bulk of those who voted for AFC in 2011 and 2015, did not cast ballots in the local election of November 2018. So one cannot make a conclusion that the disenchanted ‘AFCites’ have gone to one or the other major party. On the coast, some have expressed an interest in ANUG and Fed Up and among Amerindians; some have talked about the LJP. Those who voted for AFC in 2011 and 2015 don’t want any party to win a majority. Some ‘AFCites’ have also stated they don’t want a return of the PPP although they won’t mind if PPP gets a plurality because the other parties could hold it accountable and force it to govern responsibly.
So does the AFC still have political value? The answer is yes. Like the AFC, APNU has also lost support and it cannot win an election on its own though it could win a plurality if it can attract cross over support; APNU supporters have not abandoned it, but without AFC, it is severely weakened. The two parties need one another for political survival and in increasing its chance at government formation from a disgruntled electorate.
Unlike the other smaller partners in the governing coalition, AFC has lots more political value to APNU. The base support of AFC is still largely Indians (with minimal Amerindians and Mixed) that APNU needs. In addition, AFC provides a multi-ethnic symbol that is respected and is lacking in all parties. Its leadership (Ramjattan and Nagamootoo) is not tainted with corruption and both are assets to any alliance. And AFC has more support than all the other minor parties combined. One can literally count the support of the WPA and the NDA and the minor parties on the two hands. Only Justice for All has some support in the thousands because it spoke out against corruption and is a ‘poor people party’. The AFC still attracts support though not the same percentage as in 2015, but all the other traditional parties also lost support. If the party does not contest in 2019, its support may not necessarily go to APNU. If it contests alone, it could retain seats (though not as many as in 2011 but proportionally it could do as well as the APNU as in 2015). In fact, if the party contests alone, it could rehabilitate itself as a party known for its integrity that it was before linking up with APNU in 2015.
Thus, one should not underestimate the AFC strength. The party has not lost all its advantages of 2015. It still has bargaining tools.
Dr. Vishnu Bisram
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