The recent statement by Dr David Hinds on ‘Plain Talk’ giving the APNU coalition building process and activity in parliament an ‘F’ grade might well rattle the nerves of formal political structures, but should actually be viewed as a positive indicator of a developing political culture in Guyana. It will be uncomfortable to those who espouse formal party discipline but there should be no rush to judgment on Hinds.
Only recently Ralph Ramkarran made an unexpected but commendable public critique of the performance of his party. There is precedence for this apparent political apostasy. In the past Eusi Kwayana and Moses Bhagwan were both facilitators (and victims) of speaking out. For its part, the phrase ‘new political culture’ was popularised by the WPA from the 1970s all the way up to the present, and includes a wide span of concerns in national politics including the push for constitutional change, anti-corruption, the struggle for inter-ethnic solidarity, and the promptings for civil public discourse and the ever present hope for a government of national unity.
Yet the ambit of ‘new’ in political culture has its failings. No political party in Guyana has consistently or successfully united the issue of women’s rights to political practice in an organic way. Andaiye and other women have publicly and consistently made the point that women’s rights are central to the transformation of political and social life in Guyana or elsewhere. The other area in which political culture has never been fully addressed is the relationship of inter-personal relations, party rules and public politics. While I do not concur with Dr Hinds’ grade allocation for the APNU (in my opinion the reaction of the state to the parliamentary and public activity of the opposition in parliament demonstrates that separately and in alliance with each other, they did manage to frustrate aspects of the government’s monopoly, but the measurement of success and failure in parliament is a matter for another deliberation), the overall thrust of his very public statement unwittingly brings a test for the relationship between political culture and coalition or intra-party politics. In other terms, parties and their leadership have to overcome the notion that public criticism of political party practice from within the ranks is a negative. Guyana desperately needs a crash course in civil discourse. But civil discourse should not mean reliance on hushed conversation or backroom coalition building.
The latter has its place but has consistently failed the Guyanese political process even prior to independence. The state of the country requires loud resounding shouts to wake it up. Dr Hinds and Mr Ramkarran before him have overcome a taboo that takes the national debate beyond fixed notions of inter-party coalition and discipline.