Much has been said over the past four and a half years about the Cummingsburg Accord, and its effectiveness in enabling the sharing of executive responsibilities between the Alliance For Change (AFC) and A Partnership For National Unity (APNU). As a pre-election agreement, the Cummingsburg Accord was instrumental in bringing together two distinct political entities to contest and win Guyana’s General and Regional Elections in 2015 on a joint slate. On achieving this critical objective under the terms and conditions of the Cummingsburg Accord, the two parties were then obliged to govern as a coalition as provided for in the accord.
Having tabled a no-confidence motion against the, then governing, People’s Progressive Party, and subsequently initiated discussions with APNU leading to the formation of the APNU+AFC Coalition, the Alliance For Change shoulders significant responsibility for the outcomes of these political demarches.
The party is therefore committed to the preservation of the Coalition as a functional governing body through the complete election cycle. This has largely been achieved, notwithstanding the December 21st 2018 no-confidence motion.
Guyana’s post-independence experiences have provided ample evidence that predominantly race-based political affiliation, in a winner-takes-all dispensation, does very little to foment an inclusive and participatory approach to national development, and everything to encourage complacency and mediocrity within the upper strata of government.
There is now a growing consensus that coalition politics, in some form or another, presents a viable alternative to single party rule and can break the cycle of ethnically-oriented political domination and its adverse impact on the quality of democracy and governance, and the pace of socio-economic development.
The Cummingsburg Accord represented a bold move for a third party, and a victory for a new political dispensation in the form of a pre-election coalition. While a candid assessment of the APNU+AFC’s performance during its tenure in office may not reveal all the benefits that coalition politics can bring to Guyana, it certainly demonstrates the viability, utility and potential of coalition governments.
The AFC accepts that there is room for improvement, and that the model is a work in progress. Guyana’s Constitution is unhelpful at best, favouring a plurality over a combined majority, thereby forcing pre-election mergers of parties seeking to leverage joint support to win the executive. This is a deviation from what obtains in most parliamentary democracies, where the executive derives its authority to govern by virtue of holding or controlling a majority of seats in the parliament.
This anomaly therefore requires the parties to any coalition agreement to negotiate without quantitatively demonstrating their electoral strengths and, by extension, the level of the electorate’s support for their individual policy proposals.
An even bigger blind spot surrounds the question of whether the total number of votes that the two parties would receive as a coalition, is likely to exceed the sum of those which they might receive as individual contestants. This ‘what if’ scenario creates a much different negotiation setting than the more common post-election one in which the parties come to the table with secured parliamentary seats.
The Cummingsburg Accord was the product of a negotiation held without the benefit of the electorate’s input. It prioritised office-holding over policy positions, and received the critical public support needed to put the coalition in office.
Given the prevailing trend, the accord proved to be an effective mechanism for enhancing Guyana’s stagnating electoral outcomes. It remains a valid agreement until February 2020, and is currently being reviewed by the AFC and APNU.
The question most relevant to the AFC at this point is: How will an amended/renewed accord benefit the Guyanese people? The party is in the process of formulating a number of policy proposals for inclusion in an amended accord, and will share these with the public in the near future. These proposals represent tangible measures for achieving the goals and objectives of the party as announced at the time of its formation in 2005. Their inclusion will be required for the party to enter into any pre-election agreement, and the AFC will accept responsibility for their delivery within specified timelines.
The AFC is not a mass-based party and does not benefit from guaranteed support. The party must, at every election, present its case to the Guyanese public in order to obtain its share of votes cast. Given its experience in government over the past four-and-a-half years, and its desire to contest the upcoming elections as a coalition with APNU, the AFC will present to the public its commitments which will form the basis of its participation in a coalition to govern Guyana. This will be done during the first week in September.
The AFC is confident that the Guyanese people still see coalition politics as the best option for Guyana, and is committed to demonstrating, not just the value of a coalition government, but that of the AFC within such a government.
The Cummingsburg Accord has successfully held its signatories together for almost five years and, with the necessary inclusions, can become the blueprint for the future of coalition politics in Guyana, and a device for ensuring specific achievements within a government’s term in office.
The attractiveness of a pre-election coalition lies in the ability of the public to distinguish between its members and assess their individual priorities. The AFC believes that the Guyanese public has that ability. The AFC must therefore identify and define its priorities in order to bring votes to the coalition.
(The views expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of this newspaper)
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