The simplest way to define realpolitik without resorting to an academic-styled definition is to put it this way; John has legal power to cause the prime minister or the president of a country to lose out on something that is very important to the government. John is asked to look beyond narrow, partisan politics and be nationalistically generous.
John, knowing that he can use his bargaining power to get something he wants from the government, then actually makes a request. If the request is not granted, he withholds his trump card. The government has to make a sort of offer to John if the government is to survive. What actually happens is that raw politics takes over and the niceties of moral, principled nationalism goes out the window.
Since the term was invented in the 19th century, it has been used in all types of political situations. It is not a process confined to any particular type of governance – democratic or authoritarian. When an American president doesn’t have congressional and senatorial support, realpolitik takes over, and he has to make concessions to either the House of Representatives or the Senate.
In his second term, Barack Obama faced serious opposition to his budget and Supreme Court nomination in the Senate. When Theresa May failed to get a majority in Parliament, she had to rely on support from sympathetic parliamentarians from Northern Ireland, who gave endorsement in exchange for demands made.
The important thing to note about realpolitik is that the governmental leader does not necessarily have to play. He can call the bluff of his opposition and either he wins or he loses. Depending on how much constitutional power the opposition has, the nation’s leader has to assess his/her strengths and weaknesses.
In 2014, in Guyana, the minority president, Donald Ramotar faced a threat of a no-confidence motion (NCM) by the Alliance For Change (AFC). The AFC suggested that they would bypass the NCM route if the ruling party (PPP) passed legislation to have the procurement commission. For reasons that have not been made public as yet (Ramotar is yet to write his memoir), Ramotar refused and the NCM was put. It was the end of Ramotar, because to stave off the NCM, he prorogued parliament, thus ensuring a general election. He lost. The rest is history.
President Granger, speaking to reporters, on the sideline after an event at the Office of the President, acknowledged that Parliament has to meet to extend the deadline for the holding of elections (due last Wednesday). He said; “I am aware of the constitutional requirement to return to Parliament to seek an extension and I see that in the final analysis, this would have to be done.”
Enter realpolitik. If the government cannot survive after September 18 because the CCJ ruled that there must be an election three months after June, then for there to be an extension, it requires a two-third voting format in Parliament.
The PPP then has two pathways. It can ditch realpolitik and show nationalist concern for stability in Guyana and simply extend the life of the government.
It can invoke realpolitik and ask for something in return. What happens then? It depends on the something it wants.
The PPP, whether under Jagdeo or Makdeo or Sakdeo, will not throw away its trump card. As night follows day, the PPP will make demands. But this is a unique and unusual situation of realpolitik.
If the PPP’s request is rejected, unlike Obama who couldn’t pass his budget unless he made concessions to the Republican majority in the Senate, there is every likelihood that the political leadership in Guyana will just remain in power and Guyana will go to the polls when GECOM says it is ready. What can the PPP do?
In such unfavourable, turbulent waters, what will be the best course for the PPP? If it makes excessive demands, Granger will reject them and happily continue in power. A wiser course of action is to seek plausible changes in the functionalism of certain state institutions. If Granger repudiates these requests, then the PPP will have political advantage that it can use to rally its supporters.
It should refuse to extend the date for the general election and tell the nation that Granger just wants to have the extension without giving anything in exchange. I would suggest certain areas. Compose a format for freeing up the state media – NCN and Chronicle. Another is increasing, substantially, the current opposition members of state boards. Thirdly, demand a salary increase for the lower tier of public servants.
(The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of this newspaper)
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