There is no sociologist I know who writes on Guyana that has rejected the paradigm traditionally used in academic literature to describe this nation – a plural society. In Guyana, the bifurcation is almost neat.
The two major race groups, whose numerical strength is separated by a few percentage points, have little in common in the following areas – occupation, culture, religion. By culture we include fashion, aesthetics, music, sports, and marriage, among other factors. This almost neat separation also takes in the Portuguese, who virtually frown on football and cricket. To find a Portuguese playing cricket in this country is as common as locating Jamaican businessmen in Iraq.
There is nothing essentially unstable or dangerous when two separate spheres of existence live alongside each other. The perpetual danger with Guyana’s ethnic bifurcation is that each sphere sees the capture of government as important in protecting and patronizing its ethnic and cultural constituencies.
In reality, these two worlds in Guyana are East Indians and Africans, and the pursuit for political and administrative power is done through political parties – PPP and PNC – that belong almost exclusively to Indians and Africans.
The plural nature of this society is more than a hundred years old, and the dangerous potentials that reside in it have come to the surface several times, with the most tragic being the internecine race violence in the first half of the sixties. There has hardly been a letup since then.
A plethora of scholars and independent observers the past seventy years have argued that the violent and tragic temperatures inherent in Guyana’s plural make-up can only be abated if there is some form – no matter how diluted, how weak, how amorphous – of power-sharing, which can eventually bring about a secure future through constitutional reform.
Two expressions, each coming from the wombs of the respective major parties – PPP and PNC – have been attempts to generate power-sharing dialogues. Both have failed. These two are the bandwagon of “slo’ fyaah/mo’ fyaah” invented by Opposition Leader, Desmond Hoyte. “Slo’ fyaah/mo’ fyaah” subsequently morphed into the “Buxton troubles.” The other was the plot to topple the government by the opposition PPP in 2018 through the no-confidence motion (NCM).
Desmond Hoyte became a very psychologically devastated politician after he saw the direction the Cheddi Jagan government went into after it won the 1992 elections. Hoyte had broken out of his Burnhamite, Freudian prison and sought to fashion a new, multi-racial, democratic Guyana. Jagan did not take a similar pathway. Hoyte resented the rule of Mrs. Jagan and Jagdeo, and figured out the 2001 election was the beginning of permanent PPP victories.
“Slo’ fyaah/mo’ fyaah” was the planning of national resistance to weaken the PPP regime and bring it to the table. Hoyte and the PNC were demanding power-sharing. It was a traditional, normal protest that almost succeeded in achieving its goal. Space would not allow for a delineation of the factors that caused its death.
Briefly, the PPP infiltrated “Slo’ fyaah/mo’ fyaah” with agent provocateurs who beat up Indian people and burned business places to make Hoyte look bad. Hoyte then caved in to the demands of civil society and the business community to douse the fire. “Slo’ fyaah/mo’ fyaah” took up residence in Buxton from Mash Day 2002. Space would not permit an elaboration.
The other attempt at power-sharing was the NCM in 2018. The PPP plotted the NCM with a deeply chagrined AFC parliamentarian – Charrandass Persaud – who was inconsolable over what he considered was the AFC’s betrayal of Guyana.
The PPP found Charran a willing ally in its fight to confront the APNU+AFC regime. Two emotions overtook the PPP. It felt that it did not lose the election. Three of its top leaders pointed out the action of a very senior U.S. envoy at the time. I prefer not to say more of what I know about that individual’s role.
Even if it accepted it lost by a coat of varnish (the result was 50.3 percent versus 49.7 percent), the PPP felt that APNU+AFC had no moral mandate to govern Guyana as if it won a landslide. My opinion is that the APNU+AFC government behaved as if it did.
With an election two days away, there is talk about the need for a minority government, to force constitutional changes to bring about the eventual dissolution of winner-takes-all politics that is unworkable and catastrophic in a plural society.
My honest, deeply felt belief is that only a minority government can push the PPP and PNC into constitutional change. If either one wins a majority, I believe they will not change. The PPP and PNC are historical leviathans who love power and enjoy hogging it.
(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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