In the current tense and contentious political and social climate (conflict over the March 2 elections and the potential spread of Covid-19), an emerging debate now centres around power-sharing and constitutional change.
To this end, Nigel Hughes, a leading member of one of Guyana’s largest law firms, delves into a historical analysis of the evolution of Guyana’s political history, and reconstructs the origin of our indelible race issue.
His lengthy exposition, the subject of Paul Harris’s political cartoon (SN, April 1, 2020), is posted on his Facebook page (“How are we going to share the corn, 2020”). However, Nigel’s views, seemingly well-intentioned, incorporate a number of fallacies. I would like to consider two of them, if they help to shed light on our current predicament.
Arguing that, “since May 1966, there has been no significant change in the voting patterns of our people”, Nigel posits that “the numbers have always, by design, been against the Africans.” He concludes that Africans “felt erroneously, that somehow they could protect the interests of their core supporters by winning a free and fair election.”
However, in reality, the current demographics paint quite a contrasting picture than the one offered by Nigel. It is less likely today that the PPP, given the declining Indian population, can prevent Africans from capturing executive power in a competitive and fair election.
This demographic change is borne out by the 2012 national census, which showed that Indians now represent 40 percent and Africans compose 30 percent of the population. The faster growing populations are “Mixed race” (20 percent) and Amerindians 10 percent).
Not surprisingly, earlier proposals for power-sharing arrangements by PNC operatives when the PPP/C was in office virtually disappeared after 2015, particularly since the APNU+AFC Coalition claimed to represent a broad-based conglomeration of parties.
In effect, the winning party (notwithstanding the impact of the mini parties) would be the party that captures enough swing votes to win a plurality. This is what the Coalition accomplished in 2015, presumably capturing 11% of the votes outside its traditional base to win by a small fraction.
With the new dispensation in our body politic, a rotation among winning political parties at every election institutionalizes a fundamental principle of democracy. Theoretically, an electoral victory for the Coalition in 2015, followed by a win for the PPP in 2020, and a possible 2025 win for the Coalition, would further demonstrate that voters make rational choices, and such rotation would contribute to the institutionalisation of the democratic process. However, it is my contention that the incumbent APNU+AFC Coalition had no intention of handing over political power if they lost the 2020 election. This brings me to Nigel’s second point.
Nigel argues that, “the abuse of power, and surrender of the State to the interests of criminal enterprise which saw the deaths of hundreds of African males only served to increase the hopelessness of the African population and their lack of confidence in the ability of any state institution, even though peopled by them, to be able to protect them.” This is a false narrative that the PNC has carefully constructed, one that has contributed to the current impasse. The coalition (more so the PNC) promoted the narrative through social media of “400 Black youths killed during the PPP years”. It was a narrative which the PPP leadership either dismissed or were incapable of addressing.
The result: the narrative was embraced by most Africans, who were convinced that the PPP could not be trusted and must never be allowed to return to office, even if that party emerged victorious in 2020.
However, in an effort to examine this claim factually, the Stabroek News, utilizing archival materials, listed the circumstances surrounding the 420 persons murdered between Feb 23, 2002, and Sept 2006. The findings showed that “151 had been murdered by bandits; 239 killed during confrontations with police and in unexplained circumstances and 30 security officers murdered.”
More revealing by this exposé, was that there were 105 Indian-Guyanese listed among the 420 killed overall, and all were killed by bandits, a fact never mentioned by the champions of this mantra. Also rarely mentioned is the killing wave that immediately preceded the prison breakout and the violence following the 1997 elections.
I have no intention of reducing Guyanese politics to one of ethnicity. It is undoubtedly the single variable around which politics is organised, and the dominant means by which public policy is perceived to be administered in our winner-take-all political system.
At the same time, it would be academically dishonest not to acknowledge that the 23 years of PPP/C rule reflected one of many missed opportunities for meaningful institutional and genuine constitutional reforms, punctuated by violence, high crimes, corruption and heightened narco-trafficking.
But, so was the 28 years of PNC authoritarian rule until 1992, the year the Carter Center, among others, helped to usher in a new climate of democracy in Guyana.
Perhaps the greatest tragedy afflicting the PPP, Guyana’s first mass-based political party, resulted from the purging of an intelligent class of leaders from its inner core since the 1960s. Understandably, Indians may not have found the Cheddi Jagan charismatic appeal in Irfaan Ali, but they most assuredly cast their ballots for Bharat Jagdeo and the PPP.
I am fully in agreement with Nigel Hughes when he suggested that the exit ticket to our predicament lies in “constitutional change to redistribute political power and consequently economic power.” However, deliberations on power-sharing must consider the imbalance in the state institutions of power (such as the army, police, peoples militia, etc).
Furthermore, discussions on consociational arrangements (power-sharing) must address the security concerns of the various ethnic communities, including those of the Amerindians, Guyana’s first people.
Perhaps, what Guyana currently desperately needs (besides a miracle to address the spread of the Covid-19), are more voices from the African intellectual and professional community willing to condemn the political travesty the world witnessed since March 3rd.
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