In a week’s time, Guyanese go to the polls for the 15th time since achieving self- government seven decades ago. As is the case with ethnically divided countries around the world, our elections, except for the first one in 1953, have all been moments of discord and conflict, which have more often than not spilled over into the post-election period.
In short, elections in Guyana have not solved our deep-seated historical problems. Rather, they have only exacerbated them to the point where anxiety and fear often precede them.
We have also had our fair share of crooked elections, which have left a long shadow across the political landscape. The memory of that era is often used as a mobilizing tool for one section of the ethnic electorate. For another section, there is either silencing or denial. In recent times, both sides have made charges and countercharges of rigging, but it often sticks on one side. The force of historical memory is still very strong.
There was a time when radicals argued that elections were not a means to a revolutionary end. We saw elections as more democratic form than substance. The overthrow of the old order could not be done via elections, we contended. But as time passed and revolution slid into the past, elections have taken on new meaning—it is now part of the new revolution.
And, so here we are on the eve of perhaps the most consequential election in our history. It is difficult to ignore its presence. The campaign rallies have been huge, largely because the two big contestants have for the most part bussed their supporters to the locations. The platform speeches have been short on substantive policies, but long on that which stirs the crowds to partisan frenzy. For those who pay close attention to the saner side of our politics, it is no secret that the mega-rallies mask a deep sense of alienation among the voters.
Yet for all the alienation, I have argued in this column and on the platform that skipping the polls is not an option at this juncture. Yes, one may be guilty of encouraging people to vote, with full knowledge that the election outcome would not lead to any immediate fundamental change in the way in which we have approached governance, especially as it relates to the distribution of common resources.
What then are we asking people to vote for? I sought to answer that question by asking voters to use their vote as an investment in the future. But the investment must not stop with the vote. The people of this country, especially the poor, must be prepared to fight their leaders after the election for that future. This is what I think is lost on those who berate me for supporting the Coalition, after my serious and sometimes extreme critique of them during their first term.
I still believe that the ultimate outcome of political struggle must be revolutionary change or what we loosely call transformation. But we live in an era in which there is no appetite for political contestation outside of the ballot box. The ballot box in these post-radical times, then, becomes an arena for more than just returning governments to or throwing them out of office.
In these times when political parties in the Caribbean have little or no ideological differences, making electoral choices are most difficult. I have looked at the manifesto of both the PPP and the Coalition, and I am hard pressed to find any deep, ideological thread running through them. They list what they will do if they win, but there is nothing that binds the items together.
But vote we must. I have already said that I don’t think the newer parties would make much of a difference to the two-way race between the PPP and the Coalition. In any case, as I said before, I don’t think a minority government would lead to a movement away from the zero-sum politics we are fighting to overcome.
I am for power sharing as the ultimate road to a solution. And Coalition politics is a significant step in that direction.
(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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