Urgent reforms are needed if the PPP is to retain enough support to ensure a majority at the polls, former PPP stalwart, Ralph Ramkarran has said.
“With a dwindling electoral base, a permanent majority might no longer be assured in the future, unless urgent reforms are put in place to restore the support the Party had in 2006 and to attract wider support,” he said in an article published in yesterday’s Sunday Stabroek. “Unless measures are taken, not tomorrow, but today, the stark reality of a future of coalition governments must be now placed on the table for consideration, however reluctant it may be to do so,” said Ramkarran a former longstanding PPP executive who parted ways with the party in June following fallout from an explosive column he penned in which he said that corruption was pervasive and the government needed to do something about it.
In his article yesterday, Ramkarran noted that four successive election victories of the PPP in 1992, 1997, 2001 and 2006 were followed by the failure to obtain an absolute majority in 2011. He pointed out that the PPP and the opposition have not been working together and said that it appears that the rancour and animosity created by this situation will continue to play out in the National Assembly and in the press and will probably get worse unless both sides change course but it does not appear that this will happen.
The only factor which appears to be keeping the government in office is the lack of enthusiasm of all parties for new elections, he stated.
“This situation offers the opposition some advantages. They are in the majority. But the government has no good options. To co-operate fully with the opposition, including on governance, transparency, the budget and other demands, is the only way to political peace which will allow the government’s development agenda to proceed without hindrance. But to do so will require concessions which the government is not willing to make,” Ramkarran wrote.
He said that the party and government will therefore experience a period of stalemate, instability and hostility and the PPP stands to lose the most from this situation. ”The strategies of blaming the opposition and isolating the AFC for attacks as promoting violence and as being part of the PNC, are uncertain in their political value. A similar strategy, but with less emphasis on the AFC, did not work at the last elections. There is no reason to suggest that it will work this time around,” he opined.
He said that it would normally be expected that an electoral loss of such magnitude as suffered by the PPP would result in some serious introspection. There is no public indication that such has occurred, he said.
In analyzing the PPP’s showing at the last elections, Ramkarran said that the “electoral defeat” of the party is a manifestation of deep seated problems which have been simmering for a while but to which no attention was paid. “One such problem has been the decreasing size of the Indian Guyanese population from which the Party obtains its core support,” he wrote while pointing to figures which showed the decline of that segment of the population from 51.93% of the population in 1980 to 43.45% in 2002.
Another negative factor, he said, was the failure of the PPP to strengthen measures to improve governance and transparency. He pointed out that the party’s public associations began to shift and eventually the public perceptions of close associations with working class heroes such as trade unionists, militant workers or local leaders declined, except for formal occasions, as antagonistic pressures for increased wages and salaries grew. At the same time, increased expenditures on infrastructure at all levels created the need for increasing mechanisms of transparency, he noted.
“Allegations of corruption and nepotism grew at all levels. The PPP went into a defiant mode. Prove it, was the response. It was not expected that a Party with such an historic moral tone like the PPP, with the famed integrity of its senior and junior leaderships of the past, would sit back and allow such allegations to grow. It would have been expected that as the clamour increased more laws and measures to enhance transparency and to protect the population would be implemented,” he said.
Ramkarran wrote that the test of the party’s commitment against corruption is the establishment of the Procure-ment Commission. He pointed out that the law was passed ten years ago but the commission has not been constituted and the reversal of position by the PPP in favour of consensus “can only be construed as designed to ensure the continuing stalemate in relation to the establishment of a Procurement Commission.” He said that there will never be consensus between the PPP and the opposition on the names and the party is jeopardizing its electoral prospects by these antics.
“The allegations of corruption and lack of transparency in the country remain one of the major weaknesses that the Party has failed to confront. There is now some reluctant admission that corruption exists. Unless institutional and legal measures follow these admissions, this would be a major, continuing source of disappointment among Party supporters,” he said.
Ramkarran also pointed out that while the ‘macroeconomic fundamentals’ have been stable, the overall economic growth over the years the PPP has been in office is about 2% to 3%. The average GDP figure over the past twenty years shows that the economic growth has not been sufficient to make a substantial enough economic impact on the working people to sustain their high level of electoral support as in the past, he said. “While large rice farmers, big miners, major contractors and procurement companies supplying government are doing well, sugar workers, rice workers, mining workers have it as hard as ever,” he wrote. The vast majority at the lower end are still struggling to make ends meet with what they earn, he said while also noting that the poverty rate is still 30 per cent or close to that figure.
“In these circumstances the Party cannot escape or postpone the restating of its ideology and the reorganizing of its structure. It cannot ignore the developing of new methods of organizing, new ideas and new policies to meet a new situation and new conditions,” Ramkarran wrote. “The Party’s rules must be adapted to the new situation to rebuild inspiration, encourage new narratives, create new methods of organization, realize more creative discourses and democratize the PPP more effectively,” he said. The world has moved on and so must the party, he declared.
“Unless it wants to be continually painted into an ethnic corner, with diminishing strength as the Indian Guya-nese population diminishes, the loss of its ideological narrative means that the PPP has to refresh its distinguishing features,” Ramkarran wrote. “It has to be clearly distinguishable in philosophical, ideological and programmatic terms from it opponents. The Party must be politically progressive, socially liberal, culturally diverse and ethnically inclusive, respectful to its opponents, and always committed to and publicly promoting political cooperation. On many of these issues it can allow diverse opinions within its ranks to be publicly expressed without harming its overall unity,” he said.
He asserted too that the party itself, as opposed to the government, must be in the forefront of such issues as domestic violence, women’s issues, trafficking in persons, child abuse and exploitation, exploitation of workers in various industries, drug use, prostitution, the environment. “There are many more such issues and it does not have to be in confrontation with the government, except that the government must not be in denial about every single social evil that is exposed as existing in Guyana, as if the country is perfect,” he said.
Guyana needs the PPP but it will only survive if it grapples with the issues likely to arise in the longer term, Ramkarran said.
“If immigration increases generally and the Amerindian and mixed populations continue to grow, the Party will have to diversify its appeal and support especially in view of its dwindling ethnic base,” he said. “As the population diversifies, as the numbers of Indian Guyanese decrease, the Party has to broaden its appeal to survive. Since some of these have already begun, any delay by the Party would have negative consequences for it. This work has to start now and the challenges to do so are great,” the former Speaker of the National Assembly said. He added that demographic calculations have to be de-emphasized in view of the declining Indian Guyanese population and replaced by ideas and policies that are attractive enough to win and maintain support across a broader ethnic spectrum.
“Constitutional reform ought to be the first item on the agenda, not because the Party necessarily wants it but because if the electoral stalemate continues the opposition will force it on the agenda,” he said. “Even if the Party continues to win the largest number of votes (winning an absolute majority forever in the future, even if it wins such in the next elections, does not appear likely), holding on permanently to a minority government is not politically feasible,” he declared.
He also noted that the issue of changes to the electoral system will emerge again and the issue of shared governance has once again been placed on the agenda by the election results. “The results of the 2011 elections suggest that the Party should reach out, engage and consult, not circle the wagons as if under siege. The Party owes it to its supporters to secure for itself a permanent place in the governance of the nation. It is the only bulwark against a return to authoritarian rule which is yet to be disavowed by the PNC. The PPP can only maintain its position by constant renewal. If not, it risks losing its place permanently, and losing Guyana for its people,” Ramkarran said.