The following is just a selection of a long list of attempts at national unity that may be of interest to readers in the light of new issues raised by people in or out of political organisations.
The following report comes from an issue of the WPA’s broadsheet front and back paper, “DAYCLEAN”, dated December 23, 1989:
“GUYANA BELONGS TO ALL HER PEOPLE
On Wednesday December 20, 1989, the National Assembly passed, with all voting “Yes” for the WPA, a motion tabled in December 1988. The motion reads as follows:
• TAKING into account Guyana’s deep economic and social crisis which affects every class of the population, especially the poor and every part of the country, and which has an influence on the economy of the CARICOM region;
• ACCEPTING also the proposition that all social forces can make a contribution to the economic and social revival of Guyana and should be involved not only in the performance phase of the recovery, but also in the planning phase as far as possible;
• CONSIDERING also that the method of national consultation and dialogue is a superior method for approaching national crisis in order to strengthen the country’s psychological defences and remove all suggestion of the exclusion of any political class, religious, ethnic or other group interest in the conception of the reconstruction;
• BE IT RESOLVED that the National Assembly respectfully request the Government to consider as a matter of urgency the initiating of serious and open dialogues and consultations with all interested political parties, with all the representatives of organized labor and with all the representative organizations of business and religion; in fact with all interested social forces and organizations on the important issues of the day, including democratization, economic and social policy, a bearable income-prices relationship and other issues, thus upholding the proposition that Guyana belongs to all her people and allowing the recovery of Guyana’s economy to be accepted as a personal challenge by all Guyanese.
WE CAN AGREE ON SOME THINGS
The mover of the motion, Brother Kwayana, restated the view of the WPA that without national reconciliation, Guyana will not be able to move out of its crisis. He had withdrawn all previous motions, in order to show the importance the party attached to the present motion. The mover said that the request for talks was not aimed at seats in the Cabinet. This could not be considered without free and fair elections. He warned that in Guyana’s situation, it was unfair for the Government to be satisfied to talk only with its friends and those in its employ, or people who depended on it for a career or for business advantages. “The Government must speak with the adversaries, if Guyana’s interests are to be put first.”
He listed some of the things, which could form the basis of the proposed talks: Amerindians self-determination, an insufficiently integrated society, social crisis, economic failure, divestment and investment, freedom of association, freedom of the individual, freedom of religion, as distinct from freedom of worship, democratization. “All opposition parties claim something is rotten in the election system; something is crooked in the conduct of the elections”, said the WPA MP. These claims deserve to be examined in deep dialogue. He referred directly to the composition of the Elections Commission, with a 2-1 ruling party majority.
The motion was supported by Mr. Reepu Daman Persaud, who strongly recommended the method of dialogue and consultation, reminding the House that the PNC had once proclaimed a Consultative Democracy.
In accepting the motion, DPM Parris argued that several of the provisions of the Constitution laid the basis for dialogue and consultation and criticized the opposition (PPP and WPA) for not attending meetings of the Supreme Congress of the people. He listed a number of conditions for the right atmosphere for dialogue, mentioning ‘loyalty’ to Guyana, ending boycotts, and others. He said it would not work if any party came to the talks with a hidden agenda. He hoped it was not a Trojan horse move. (End of report).”
The motion had been tabled one year earlier in 1988 and it was intended to seriously encourage all political parties to admit the existence of the serious state of affairs in the nation. The parties must come together with “all social forces” to look at ourselves, face our blunders and, as Guyanese of many origins and many opinions, make an effort to improve the situation and move into a higher system in which everyone counted.
The motion avoided in its text accusations of guilt and hostile language, but included in its scope all the violations, omissions and irregularities that had plagued the nation for decades. It is fair to note that before and after the coalition of the PNC and the UF, which lasted from 1964 to 1968, there had been proposals for overcoming the sharp and unsustainable divisions in Guyanese society. In 1964, proposals for a coalition between the PPP and the PNC had been made. The most important of these was a series of consultations between the PPP and the PNC, proposed by Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, President of Ghana, who with the agreement of the two parties sent a high-level political mission to Guyana to mediate the division between the two parties. The discussions involving these high-powered teams were conducted in secret and records of the proposals made and the responses to them have not been made public. The mission from Ghana departed without achieving the desired agreement and each of the two parties has given the impression that the other was the unreasonable party. The design of these talks did not permit any interaction between those involved and the general public. Periodically, the PPP in particular threw out feelers for a coalition with its opposite number.
The next notable development came in 1976 when the PNC had been making great headway in the African Liberation Movement and in the Non-Aligned Movement. It was the offer by the PPP of Critical Support to the Government, which it had regarded as not legitimate. Again in 1977, the PPP published its proposal for a National Patriotic Front. The only party that responded favourably, though critically, was the WPA. It later became known, and there are documents to verify this, that the PPP and the PNC had entered into negotiations at Belfield House, the country residence of the Prime Minister, to negotiate a new relationship, including shared Government between the two parties. In case of any attempt at denial, it is stated here that minutes of such meetings, with the names of top brass members of both parties, have come into the possession of scholars. In fact, Mr. Alim Majeed attracted much hostility for writing and publishing a book dealing with the progress of talks between the PPP and the PNC. In 1979, Dr. Walter Rodney presented to the Working People’s Alliance and put into general circulation a draft proposal for a Government of National Unity and Reconstruction (GNUR).
In 1984, the TUC convened a forum at Critchlow Labour College at which the PNC, PPP and WPA were invited to make presentations on the topic, “Socialist Guyana: the way forward and upward.” At this forum, the WPA’s presentation was titled “Towards a democratic Republic.”
The Patriotic Coalition for Democracy, founded after the 1985 general elections, was a union of opposition parties opposed to the still ruling PNC Government.
The WPA motion for a dialogue of all social forces, including all political parties, took efforts at moving in the direction of national unity to a level not approached previously. It brought the subject into open public debate among contending parties in what is regarded as the country’s highest forum. The motion sought to have the four parties in the National Assembly discuss, examine and authorise a national conversation, which could release known and unknown talents, energy and expertise of all Guyanese, at home and abroad, to do for ourselves what no one else can do. The motion succeeded. What happened to the dialogue is a warning, which we can dare to ignore, only if we see ourselves as beyond redemption. A resolution of the National Assembly is, in theory, an order to the Executive. President Hoyte who could not miss the potential of such a process, as outlined in the motion and the debate, began to promote the dialogue by seeking with each political party in turn its ideas of how the dialogue should be configured and conducted. After the leader of the opposition, Dr. Cheddi Jagan, had made his opening statement in the opening session of the dialogue, President Hoyte announced that the subject elections would not be part of the dialogue. The WPA promptly announced that if that was the case then the dialogue was dead.
It leaked out that hardliners in the PNC had rebelled against the content and the intent of the National Assembly resolution. Acting as an independent citizen, Dr. Bertrand Ramcharan had drafted and released a work plan aimed at ensuring a sustainable future for Guyana. It touched on many sectors, including the environment, and stressed the need for national unity and cooperation. On a visit to Guyana with his late wife, Dr. Lily Ramcharan, he presented a printed version of his proposal to all parties in Parliament.
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