Politics and Guyana’s Underdevelopment

Development Watch

 – Part 1

The previous Development Watch column (SN Jan 9, 2013) presented the idea that voters from one ethnic group face a great uncertainty problem as to how the voters of the other ethnic group will vote. Perhaps this is the greatest information problem Guyana faces. Uncertainty and distrust at the day of secret ballot lead the majority of voters to vote for the comfort of their ethnic parties. Of course, there is also a fairly sizable Indigenous and mixed ethnicity population in Guyana that can serve as the independents and swing voters.
I will argue in the next few columns that this group is not yet large enough to fundamentally change who wins the Presidency.

Over the next few columns, I will develop a thesis that connects the present ethnic information voting problem with Guyana’s underdevelopment. We will also examine the perilous implication of the information problem for the independent multi-ethnic AFC. In addition, the column will outline some strategic moves that could possibly allow electoral turnover within the context of the tinkered Burnham Constitution. Before becoming President, Mr Donald Ramotar noted that he saw nothing wrong with the Burnham Constitution.

The analysis that will follow will make several development predictions and will be based on some Guyana-specific (or institutional) factors. First, Guyana is a bi-communal society with two dominant ethnic groups. This bi-communalism was noted in more formal and scholarly writings in academic journals such as Publius: Journal of Federalism (1988) and Journal of Conflict Studies (1991) to name a few. Some Guyanese analysts have written extensively on this ethnic conflict; for example Mr Ravi Dev proposed the idea of the Ethnic Security Dilemma.
The core thesis
development watchThis column breaks from most observers by arguing that the quest for economic gains and to control resources is what underpins the Ethnic Security Dilemma. Guyanese economist Thomas B. Singh – in a published paper titled: ”Conflict, economics and conflict management” – has also written in favour of the economic roots of the conflict. Mr Aubrey Norton of the PNC also argued in a published paper – “Governance in an ethnically divided society: the case of Guyana” – that African Guyanese perception of marginalization stems from perceived biases by the Indo-Guyanese government’s allocation of economic resources.

In past columns, I have presented the idea that the PPP is an elected oligarchy that tries to create its own subservient business class of connected friends and family members. As it tries to control the economic space, the PPP must adopt undemocratic practices such as using state resources to build up its own private media (example Guyana Times that was created through oligarchic exploitation and advertising boycotts of other private media, and often uses ghost writers to attack opposition activists, including yours truly). The control of the private press marches on as radio licences have been given to the connected and an important TV station, VCT, was bought out by the oligarchs.

The PPP itself excludes opposition parties from presenting their views in the people’s media Chronicle (even more famous for its ghost writers) and NCN, both financed by taxpayers. In its quest to control the allocation of economic resources, the PPP crowds out overall private investments and therefore perpetuates the structural backwardness of the economy. This means an economy dependent on volatile primary commodities such as gold, timber, rice, sugar and bauxite for its main source of foreign exchange (including remittances, underground activities and PetroCaribe debt). Past columns have argued there can be no development without structural change.

Updating the core thesis
The argument that will be presented in the next few columns has several important differences. First, it shows that the control of economic resources is done both at the ethnic and class levels. Therefore, there are four main groups in the future analysis: (i) East Indian elites, (ii) African Guyanese elites, (iii) East Indian masses, and (iv) African Guyanese masses. Second, these four groups compete strategically for scarce resources. The column will show that this competition culminates in ethnic voting among the masses. The elites have to whip up support among the masses as they themselves vie for economic opportunities.  Although it is morally wrong to vote according to ethnic lines, in the realm of economics it is the rational thing for the masses to do. Deep within the heart of the average East Indian voter is the desire to cooperate with the African Guyanese voter. Cooperation, however, is unlikely because on the day of election in secret ballot – and with a winner take all Constitution –both groups have to play it safe because each does not know how the other will vote. Hence, the great information crisis the country faces.

Third, looking at the conflict at the strategic level allows us to  map out how  the elites of  both groups maintain  their      economic hold by controlling the sentiments of the masses. Fourth, by positioning the analysis as conflict among four groups we are better able to chart solutions. These may involve constitutional reform, electoral reforms or pure election strategy so as to bring government turnover. One of the auxiliary predictions of the model herein is the tenuous position of the independent AFC. The party can be wiped out in one election; therefore, we would be able to study some of strategic moves it will need to undertake to ensure its survival in a bi-communal society.

Why coalitions before the election?
In order to set the stage for the next columns, let us remind ourselves why the PPP is happy for coalitions to take place before election and not after. This means that if APNU and AFC wanted to form a joint alliance they must do so before nomination day.

The Herdmanston Accord of 1998 required constitution reform, but instead the elites of the PPP and PNC pursued constitutional fiddling, which would today result in a minority government, an exorbitant pension for the former President, a hefty one for the leader of the opposition, pension for young Members of Parliament, etc.

At the time of the Herdmanston Accord there was a vociferous new political party called ROAR. The PPP’s election strategy at the time was “don’t split the votes.” They argued successfully that a vote for ROAR is a vote for the PNC. In fact, Mrs Jagan pleaded with the East Indian masses at a Kitty election rally to “don’t split the votes.” Of course, she was rallying the East Indian troops around the East Indian elite party. PPP ground workers would tend to deliver a cruder message than Mrs Jagan’s to village folks reminding them of the bad things the PNC (code word for African Guyanese)  would do if it gets back into power. President Jagdeo delivered a similar message against the AFC when he said in Berbice that if the PNC gets back into power it will give its supporters guns.

Therefore, by requiring pre-election coalitions the PPP can take its strategy of “don’t split the votes” to the East Indian masses by moving from propaganda to fact. So far no third party has fallen for this strategic bait. To be continued.
Comments and questions: tkhemraj@outlook.com

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