How can three political parties come together in the national interest given that each has its own agenda?

Dear Editor,

People are well aware that the November 28, 2011 general and regional elections created a minority government, with the opposition controlling parliament by a mere one seat. This is what is referred to as the new political dispensation, where, in theory, the three political parties have to come together in the interest of national unity. This is not happening at this time and any future coming together looks grim.

This ‘grim’ characteristic already has hit the stage largely because one or two of the key players has a greater interest in advancing one-upmanship, and not genuine national unity amid a pervading and growing political mistrust. That distrust saw the light of day in the elections of Speaker and Deputy Speaker from the opposition forces, and most recently, the opposition parliament’s non-approval of Financial Papers # 7 and # 8. Minister of Finance Dr Ashni Singh in expressing his concerns on the non-approval noted: “What we witnessed today was the coming together of the APNU and the AFC to withhold parliamentary imprimatur being granted to expenditure that was incurred from the contingencies fund in accordance with the law… this expenditure was incurred in the interest of providing goods and services to the people of Guyana.” This statement certainly is not an expression of trust.

And then there is the unending psychological war between A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) and the Alliance For Change (AFC) for control of the opposition, with regular and amusing manifestations in the media. Sometimes, I wonder who the opposition leader is. It is clear that the one-seat majority opposition’s adrenalin is flowing ubiquitously, indeed, imbuing in the opposition elements the feeling that they have all the answers for all the problems in this country.

This approach does not bode well for coming together, for substituted for this thing called genuine ‘national unity,’  is national unity rhetoric, a regular and demeaning political expression by all standards in the annals of this country’s politics. At any rate, if the signs of the times are the soaring opposition theatrical ‘one-upmanship’ style, the opposition’s psychological warfare, and the ensuing and enduring political mistrust among all parties, then new general and regional elections may provide the exit route from this political mayhem. Or, the alternative is for all the parties to nurture a nonpartisan modus operandi within this new political dispensation.

Cabinet members have some affinity with the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C), and therefore, it is logical that they would promote that party’s agenda; likewise, AFC and APNU opposition members of parliament logically represent and promote their parties’ interests. How then do they come together? All three political parties will argue that their parties’ interests are not partisan because their agendas put Guyana first. So if each party’s interest is in the national interest, what are the conditions that make for such wholesale disagreement to the point of acrimony?

Look, whether the PPP/C is right or wrong, it has a perception about the Speakership elections and about the parliamentary non-approval of the Financial Papers; and as long as these perceptions are not on a path of convergence with the two opposition parties, then coming together is heading for failure, and mistrust reigns.

Invariably, after an election producing no clear winner in many other countries, parliamentary negotiations among several parties will eventually produce some coalition or minority government, which becomes a minority caretaker; where the minority caretaker government becomes vulnerable to parliamentary diktat. This would be the case, principally, because the minority government in some other country is a creature of parliament.

What is different in the Guyana situation is that its Parliament had no input in the birth of this minority PPP/C government; the constitution stipulates that the party with the majority of votes at an election accedes to the presidency, and the president constitutes a government. For these reasons, in Guyana, there is no parliamentary or legislative struggle to institute a government. I suspect, then, under these circumstances, the PPP/C government is not a minority caretaker in Powell’s terms, the government is hardly a caretaker if it does have an escape route on legislation it does not prefer.
And I present these ideas because any coming together would first require an understanding of the conception and the constitutional, and not parliamentary basis, of this new political dispensation.

The question is still the same, nonetheless, that is, how could the three political parties come together in the national interest, given that each has its own agenda? Applying a revised version of Spear’s findings, reaching a path of convergence requires resolving several challenges. I mention a few here, among others, as diluting the one-upmanship thinking and action; tempering the opposition psychological war to weaken political competitors; cease and desist from using the zero-sum power game; any agreed package has to be primarily in the national interest; actionalize the view that what benefits the national interest benefits the parties.

The Spanish writer Ortega Y Gasset who authored Invertebrate Spain, wrote about people ‘coming together,’ thus “People don’t live together just like that. That kind of cohesion exists only within a family. The groups who make up a state live together for a purpose. They are a community of projects, desires, big undertakings. They don’t come together simply to be together, but in order to do something tomorrow.” And the nauseating national unity rhetoric now the hallmark of the new political dispensation will not effect a coming together; coming together has a purpose, where all the parties’ agendas become the national agenda.
Yours faithfully,
Prem Misir

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