Once the final results of the November 2011 poll became known the return to office by the People’s Progressive Party/Civic was not the major issue on the post-elections agenda. That had been widely expected. What was less expected was that the electorate would deny the ruling party its accustomed overall majority in the National Assembly. After we had found ourselves in a political circumstance where, for the first time, the centre of attention appeared to have shifted from the executive to the legislature, the issue of whether or not the altered ‘mathematics’ of the National Assembly might usher in a more consensual political culture became the principal talking point of post-elections public and political discourse. Our politics had entered a historic zone – or at least so it seemed.
The prognosis for a more mature political culture arising out of the much discussed ‘one-seat’ majority appeared to find expression across political boundaries. Not everyone, however, was optimistic and understandably so. After all, we had been presented with considerable evidence during the preceding half a century or so that our political culture is about the winner taking power – all of it. Consensus, consultations and any variant of a sharing of power have all existed aplenty in the realm of rhetoric. The reality, however, has always been decidedly different, so that while the outcome of the November 2011 general elections might have been greeted with a healthy measure of cautious optimism that a change in political postures was possible, history had already provided a considerable counterweight to that optimism.
Put differently, despite the post-elections brouhaha about the ‘historic opportunity’ that appeared to have arisen out of the outcome of the poll, the pragmatists amongst us had good reason to remain wary as to whether the political leopard could really change its spots.
If there is anything that the past year has taught us it is that old habits die hard and that our political leaders may still be light years away from any sort of readiness to lead us out of the wilderness of our prevailing retrograde political culture that stifles our development and engenders a national frustration that manifests itself in so many distressing ways. Even amongst the optimists of a year ago there appears to have developed the considerable feeling that the hope for positive political change that appeared to repose on the one-seat majority was grossly overestimated.
Nothing has happened to justify the optimism of a year ago. Indeed, our political leaders may well have long poured cold water on the very notion of a qualitative change in our political culture. The past year has not only been characterized by some of the most politically counterproductive tumult in the National Assembly but has also served to reinforce those familiar and unpalatable realities about the way in which we govern ourselves. One of those realities – perhaps the most poignant one – is that our political leaders continue to be insincere about their election-time promises to ‘put our country first.’ Control not compromise remains the essence of our political culture.
It would have taken a great deal of political will on its part to persuade an executive that had previously governed for nineteen unbroken years to accept as anything less than a disaster an opposition-controlled parliament. They, like their predecessors, had simply grown too accustomed to complete domination of the political space. By the same token an opposition that had, over almost two decades, grown used to regarding the National Assembly as no more than an executive-controlled rubber stamp and a mirror image of its own political impotence would be unlikely not to want to test the relevance (or effectiveness, if you will) of a new-found parliamentary majority. It was this crude political combativeness that remains embedded in our political culture that made both the brouhaha over the 2012 budget and the persistent rumour of snap elections inevitable. Caught in the bind of an altogether unfamiliar parliamentary equation both the government and the opposition were reacting on the basis of political instincts that had been refined over many decades. In effect what they have done is to turn the National Assembly into a potential political cauldron, a focus for flashpoints that could create even greater deterioration in our political behaviour.
Arguably the most indelicate politically disturbing statement of 2012 was made by President Donald Ramotar himself whose assertion at a public forum that his government had “no confidence in the Speaker” leaves us to wonder whether the President, of all persons, ought not to be seen to be working the hardest to make the extant parliamentary arrangements work. Is the President’s lack of confidence in the Speaker not reflective of his government’s lack of confidence in the manner in which the work of the National Assembly is being conducted, and assuming that to be the case does it not constitute a circumstance that amounts to an acute national emergency? More to the point, if that lack of confidence still obtains, where exactly do we go from here?
As things stand, the hope that the outcome of the November 2011 elections might have had the effect of giving real meaning to the idea of putting the nation first appears to have been dashed by the unchangeable political reality of power first. That is the primary reason why the year that is now ended was characterized by so much political confrontation. The charade that passes for politics has engendered new and alarming levels of cynicism amongst the populace as a whole. Perhaps that most important determination that Guyanese on the whole have made is that far too much of the national landscape is cluttered with the type of political behaviour that is taking us nowhere. That awareness has led to a profound loss of interest in the theatre that passes for politics and the actors that dwell therein, in circumstances where far too little room has been left for the realization of real national interests. In the eyes of the populace what now passes for politics simply isn’t worth either their attention or the national space which it has traditionally been afforded.
The political optimism which the 10th Parliament appeared to bring with it has waned quickly in the face of what appears to have been the swift and seemingly unequivocal rejection by our political leaders of the opportunity which it offered. The ugly combativeness that characterized much of the proceedings in the National Assembly in 2012 provides as strong an indication as we could wish for that we may still be some distance away from the quantum shift in our political culture without which development will remain embedded in the realm of rhetoric. Politically, 2012 was an entirely forgettable year.