By Ralph Ramkarran
(This column first appeared on Mr Ralph Ramkarran’s blog at www.conversationtree.gy and has been reprinted with his permission.)
Critics are baffled by what is alleged to be the reluctance of the PPP to accept that it is no longer in the majority since the 2011 elections. Their analysis, at its worst, suggests that an arrogant, hungry and driven elite, determined to dominate the reins of office, seeks to remain entrenched in power for its own sake, in order to continue to plunder and, not least, to assure protection from prosecution.
This analysis is superficial and fails to recognize the deeper realities that motivate the approaches of the PPP to the issues of governance in the new environment and indeed in the pre-2011 dispensation, even if it was then less noticeable.
There are no doubt subjective factors within the Party leadership which influence some policy choices and attitudes, both before and after 2011. These may no doubt have been responsible for the negative features which have developed and which persist. Those are not defended here. But the objective realities of the political history of Guyana since 1953, and its impact on the PPP’s psyche, have profoundly influenced the direction and orientation of its basic approaches, even within the changing class composition of its leadership, which has impacted on some aspects of its policies, including those mentioned above. Only Cheddi Jagan’s transformational ideas occasionally broke through oppressive historical circumstances.
The successful formation of the PPP in 1950, followed by the winning of universal adult suffrage and the grand victory at the 1953 elections, created and sustained an energetic euphoria for that period. The promise of a golden future of independence and socialism created by this series of events was horribly dashed by another series of events – the suspension of the constitution in 1953, restriction and imprisonment of its leaders and members and the split of the Party in 1955. The victory of the PPP in the 1957 general elections was only an interlude. It was followed by the ethnic and political violence of the 1962 – 1964 period, a new round of imprisonment of its leaders and members and the twenty-four years of authoritarian rule by the PNC which saw extensive subjugation of the PPP, harassment, imprisonment, violence against and killing of its supporters. Other political forces, in particular the WPA, incurred similar wrath from the PNC.
It is this history of having to constantly struggle against what it always saw as formidable odds, to have to fight desperately for what it believed was its political life, its tenuous grip on office in the earlier periods, the post elections violence in 1992, 1997 and 2001, the refusal of the PNC to accept any election results since 1992 notwithstanding their approbation by credible local and foreign observers, that have impacted more than anything else on the PPP’s postures today. The PPP believes that it is under siege by hostile and negative forces which, if they get the opportunity, will return to the past and maybe destroy the PPP once and for all. Analysis of current events generally ignore this fear and misunderstand what is going on within the PPP. While the effects of ethnic polarization may well have influenced political developments it is not accurate to suggest that it was the determining factor.
The PPP’s sense that it was the major obstacle to imperialism’s designs on Guyana and that in the Cold War context it was imperialism’s major objective to remove it from the political scene, played a far more important role in conditioning its responses then and now. The fact that the PNC was imperialism’s main instrument in Guyana for the suppression of the PPP for many years, or so it felt, have served to maintain its focus on the PNC as a Party that can do the same again. Those who see this conflict in pure ethnic terms are not seeing the full picture.
It is true that in Guyana’s ethnically composed society, where political sentiments gather around separately organized political parties, however broad their appeal, these types of histories remain prolonged memories which have a far more sustained impact on political decision making than in other types of societies. It is in this way that ethnic issues and histories continually creep into the political discourse and can influence it, sometimes significantly.
Unless transformational leadership takes charge, or some other factor intervenes, such as the power of the electorate, societies such as Guyana fail to reach their true potential or worse.
Cheddi Jagan was the first and last transformational leader of the PPP. Such is his history, evidenced by works from Stephen Rabe and Colin Palmer, and many more yet to come. His proposals for a National Patriotic Front and Government, while made in a different era in different conditions, and now somewhat dated, but reaffirmed by him in principle as late as 1991, continue to resonate as the way forward for Guyana. Had they been adopted in the late 1970s, or even now with such modifications as are necessary, Guyana would have been or would become a transformed country. Alas, either the electorate has to determine this choice or another transformational leader of the PPP has to emerge, which is not likely to happen anytime soon.
The PNC is also entrapped by history, but it is a history of its own making. Its leading members continue to justify its alliance with imperialism and its local supporters to foment violence and remove the PPP from office as a masterstroke. Stroke it was. Masterful it was not.
Its leaders continue to deny the rigging of elections for a quarter of a century. Even if many things fade with time, the story among many Guyanese that it was the PNC that deprived them of their right to vote is being handed down to the next generation and will continue to be handed down from generation to generation. To maintain the fiction of electoral rectitude in the past, the PNC is forced to allege that election after election since 1992 has been rigged against it, otherwise it would have won fairly, as in the past. And Desmond Hoyte’s truculence after 1992 set a course that continues today.
Another course was possible. A year or two after 1992, in what appeared then to be a personal rather than a Party initiative, Desmond Hoyte asked Hugh Cholmondeley to prepare a statement on the PNC’s past for him to consider. Whether or not Hoyte seriously intended to issue it, or whether he was merely trying to pacify Cholmondeley, who had been canvassing vigorously for a statement, is not known. As it happened, the statement was prepared by Cholmondeley and delivered to Hoyte but nothing happened.
Had the PNC chosen another narrative, the one that Hoyte may have been tempted to embrace, it could have resulted in a less politically charged atmosphere and smoother edges around our politics more conducive to resolving some of the problems which now exist in Guyana.
When anyone outside the PNC raises the issue of a statement about its past, it reacts with great hostility, as if an attempt is made to ‘attack’ the PNC. Far from it. The body which will benefit the most from such a coming to terms with the past is the PNC. It will open up areas of support for the PNC that are now closed. It will also transform the political discourse in Guyana in a positive direction.