Small political parties are ineffectual within our political system. The record of small political parties, prior to the emergence of the AFC, was far from impressive.
The United Force faded into oblivion after 1968 when it dropped out of the Coalition Government with the PNCR. Other small parties went as fast as they came. The WPA which emerged as a threat to PNCR rule between 1978 and 1979 – a period it refers to as the Civil Rebellion – was emasculated in the 1992 elections.
It later tried to piggyback on the support of the fledging Guyana Action Party (GAP) and managed to get a seat into parliament exclusive strength of that party. That was a good as it ever got.
The Alliance For Change (AFC) emerged at a time of political gridlock. The AFC took advantage of the political frustration and political exhaustion with the two political parties. The AFC performed credibly in the 2006 elections.
The AFC did even better in the 2011 elections after the PPPC regime was besieged by concerns about corruption. As a result, the AFC was able to hold the balance of power in the 2011 elections, something that it boasted publicly about.
But we know how that panned out. The AFC instead of using its balance of power to forge political consensus became swell-headed. It pursued a political vendetta against the PPPC, going so far as to table a vote of no-confidence against the PPPC which led to the prorogation of parliament in order for a political solution to be worked out.
The AFC however was not interested in a political solution. It was keen to settle political scores. In the run-up to 2015 elections, it went against its stated political principle of never joining with any of the two main political parties. It entered into a coalition with the APNU. It is now suffering the consequences.
The AFC in government has abandoned its role as a political arbiter. It has betrayed the confidence of its supporters by going along, “hook line and sinker”, with the APNU. Like the WPA, it is now the political doormat of the PNCR.
The AFC has done irremediable damage to the idea of a “third force”. After what the AFC did, it will be difficult for parties to go to the electorate by offering themselves up as third forces, which will not align to the two major parties.
By entering into a coalition and by being violated in the way it has been, the AFC has signaled the death-knell of third force politics.
One new party which recently emerged has suddenly awakened to the reality that it takes money to a run an election campaign. And without that money, there is no chance of that party making any impact on the electorate. That party has now decided to seek an accommodation with one of the larger political parties. This is yet another blow for third party politics.
On Thursday, another political party was born. Whether it will have a stillbirth is left to be seen. But one thing that is sure is that the political environment at the moment does not favour small parties.
With an ethnically polarized electorate, small parties are seen as splitting the votes of the two major ethnic camps. These camps therefore covertly undermine these parties. Or they co-opt them.
The new party, launched on Thursday, and which calls itself The Citizens Initiative (TCI) says that it will not join with any of the two many political parties, the PNCR or the PPPC. But the AFC said that at one time also.
What Guyana needs is not a third force. Third forces have failed. Having a third force in parliament does not mean that there will be an inclusive political system. One party holding a balance of power of one of two seats can be easily co-opted.
Third force parties have failed to break the stranglehold of ethnic politics. What Guyana needs is more than one small party in the National Assembly so that any attempt by one to be co-opted by any of the larger parties can be counteracted by the other smaller parties. What is needed is third, fourth, fifth sixth and seventh political forces. Not just a third force.
The problem is that the difference in electoral support between the two major parties is so small; the electorate is hardly likely to vote for smaller parties. These parties therefore end up in a chicken and egg situation.
They need to get into parliament to deprive either of the larger parties of a majority. But in the process of trying to do so, they are viewed as vote-splitters.
That is the tragedy of Guyanese politics. And it will continue to be so until the electorate is willing to elect more than one smaller party to the National Assembly in order to break the stranglehold of the two political juggernauts – the PNCR and the PPPC.
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