The apparent electoral decline of the AFC has prompted a fresh debate over the role of Third Parties in Guyana. Some commentators and former AFC supporters have taken the party to task for coalescing with the PNC and in the process surrendering the balance of power it earned at the 2011 general elections. Others have charged the party with betraying its supporters. Some are opining that the electorate would not trust Third Parties again, given the experience of the AFC.
As is usually the case with these discussions of Guyanese politics, part of it lacks context—this is a real worrying development in our public discourses. It means that our young people are being fed political “truths” that are devoid of serious examination of available evidence. It also means that people are arriving at the wrong conclusions. It is my considered view that the new parties are drawing the wrong lessons from the AFC’s apparent decline, precisely because they refuse to engage the circumstances that accompanied the party’s evolution.
Serious political parties do not emerge out of thin air. There has to be something in the society that propels these formations. It was true of the PPP, PNC, UF, WPA and the AFC—the major political parties to emerge since Self-Government in the early 1950s. The first three parties were creatures of both the emerging Cold War and our ethnic polarization. The WPA, in addition to these two factors, was shaped by the resistance to the authoritarian State that developed under PNC rule in the early 1970s. All four parties were deeply ideological—they had a core set of values and beliefs about politics and society.
The AFC was and is a different kind of formation. One cannot have any serious discussion of the AFC phenomenon outside of the evolution of Guyanese and Anglophone Caribbean politics since the end of the Cold War three decades ago and outside of the return of certified elections to Guyana in 1992. These two developments cleared the way for the steady decline of ideology as an important element of political contestation. It meant that our politics over the last three decades have been characterized by a combination of ethnicity and pragmatism. This is the basis of the AFC’s emergence.
The AFC was created in 2005 when an important segment of the African Guyanese elites refused to accept the leadership of Robert Corbin or had lost confidence in the capacity of the PNC to remove the PPP from office. The descent into political gangsterism from 2002 had signaled to them that there was a rot in the African Guyanese political machinery. The birth of the AFC was orchestrated to take advantage of this opening.
Within a year the Raphael Trotman-led AFC was able to shave off enough votes from the PNC to launch the party as a serious force. Incidentally, as I argued last week, the PNC has always been vulnerable to electoral and political rebellion within its base. Only a decade before, Hamilton Green’s GGG had beaten the PNC in Georgetown at the 1994 Local Government election after Hoyte had thrown Green out of the PNC. In fact, President Granger never tires of pointing to the “splits” in the PNC whenever he does analysis of party politics in Guyana.
The question for the AFC was what to do with the opening they got. Trotman who was more steeped in ideology than his colleagues was perceptive enough to know that the AFC’s following did not constitute a base and therefore felt that joining Corbin’s proposed Big Tent might have been a good option. But his other colleagues opted for the pragmatic approach of “We will not join either side.” That kind of approach leaves a Third Party in Guyana in ‘No man’s land” . I find it amusing that in 2019 new parties are springing up and repeating that same mantra. It means they have learnt the wrong lesson from the AFC’s experience.
As Trotman may have sensed, once Corbin selflessly stepped aside for Granger and the PNC and WPA buried their mutual hostility and formed the APNU, those 2006 AFC voters returned home. But the AFC soon got lucky again. After losing his bid to become the PPP presidential candidate, Nagamootoo jumped over to the AFC and took his PPP followers with him. Just as the AFC’s 2006 voters were Trotman’s, the party’s 2011 voters were Nagamootoo’s. I am sure that had Ralph Ramkarran joined the AFC, the party would have gotten a larger slice of the vote.
With 10 percent of the vote in their hands the AFC leadership took the pragmatic decision to join the APNU. That mantra of not joining either side was driven by pragmatism. The AFC leadership was and is made up of elites who for the most part have had no grounding in political struggle, so there was no political upbringing there. They were not driven by any core beliefs about politics and society. This is a very important factor in understanding that party. But it was not their fault. In the post-Cold War era the society at large retreated to a pragmatic politics. The parties followed suit. PPP and PNC abandoned Socialism. And the WPA’s revolutionary politics seemed quaint in this new era.
So, when the Coalition won in 2015 and the AFC found itself with enormous power at its disposal, as a collective it could and did not have any ideological praxis to bring to bear on the situation. Trotman was all but gone from the party. There were some serious individuals like Nigel Hughes who sought to infuse some ideological outlook into the party, but they were already set in their ways. There was no working class or revolutionary praxis to fall back on. The AFC had no reason for being beyond anti-Jagdeoism and pragmatism. The AFC has not contributed to an extension of Guyanese political thought. And in the absence of any core political beliefs or ideology, it was easy for the party’s leadership to become drunk on power.
I am contending that the AFC’s failure to use its enormous power within the government to pull the PNC towards transformational governance lies in the fact that the AFC itself is not a party grounded in a transformative praxis. This is the big error that is being made by those who today chastise the AFC for losing its independence—the AFC was never independent or promised anyone to be independent. The party was driven by simple pragmatism.
The PPP supporters that went with Nagamootoo soon left because the AFC had no emotional attachment to them. The party was weak on race and ethnicity and their relationship to Guyanese politics. In other words, the AFC had and has no ideological position on race and ethnicity. The Nagamootoo followers were mere voters who propelled the party to the pinnacle. The party did not have the political and ideological wherewithal to accommodate and keep them.
So, the lesson the new parties are taking away from the AFC is the wrong one. The AFC’s sin was not partnering with the APNU–you have to partner with the big parties in order to play some role in governance. Their failure lies in their surface understanding of Guyana’s complex politics, their lack of a transformational praxis and their fragile independence.
(The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of this newspaper)
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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