Politics in Guyana – read Suetonius

More than normally, our politicians seem to be tearing at each other’s throats. The 2011 elections, with the results poising power between executive and legislative bodies, one might have hoped would lead to constructive dialogue, useful give and take, compromise, a Guyana amity pact and accelerated national progress. Instead we have entered an alarming period of internecine political warfare which is dragging the country steadily backward.

The ‘Mandela solution’ has always been available as a way out of the dead-end created by our divisive and excessively partisan politics. ‘Winner does not take all’ – in the 2011 case the winners on both sides – is an option which should resonate strongly in our country now.

Speaking personally, I have always seen great merit in the concept of the best in all the parties coming together to recruit all our talents in the cause of tackling what after all in a poor and vulnerable country is a national emergency. Coalitions are formed to fight wars. Our war is the war against poverty and against the ignorance and corruption and crime born of poverty.

20131229ianIf only for a limited period of, say, five years such a coalition of the best political talents would surely give the sort of breathing space needed to calm fears of racial discrimination, firmly entrench democratic structures to go along with a new constitution, recruit the widest range of available qualified professionals, agree a national development strategy, and confront in unity the multitudinous challenges of nation building. As Jean Monnet used to say when he began the process of uniting Europe, “Let us all come together on this side of the table and face the problems on the other side.”

Sadly, it is most unlikely that a coalition of the major political parties will ever be achieved. The fact is that in politics ‘power’ and ‘sharing,’ like oil and water, simply do not mix.

They are antitheses. The very idea of sharing is repugnant to those involved in the exercise of political power. Get down to the bedrock of reality and you find that power-sharing is a contradiction in terms. The Mandela solution depended on a uniquely great man and in any case lasts for a very short time.

The truth seems to be that politicians really are different in the naked reality of their ambitions. The best book about politics remains The Lives of the Caesars written by Suetonius in Rome 2,000 years ago. Then there was absolutely no pretence about what politics was all about, no shilly-shallying over ‘issues’ and ‘principles’ and ‘good of the nation’ and ‘rights of the people.’ As Gore Vidal wrote in a famous essay, it was simply: “Power for the sake of power. Conquest for the sake of conquest.

“Earthly dominance as an end in itself: no Utopian vision, no dissembling, no hypocrisy. I knock you down; now I am king of the castle.” To wield power, to be famous and feared, to keep your enemies down, to look after your own, that was the whole, the only, idea. The great historian portrayed the truth unflinchingly. And he spoke for the ages.

Nothing very much has changed since those Roman times, except that now it is considered indelicate to admit the basic fact that politics is about naked love of power. Political disputes have to be dressed up as high-minded differences over ‘issues,’ ‘ideology,’ ‘principles,’ ‘the good of the people,’ ‘the future of the nation.’ But who can doubt that the true political mainsprings remain ambition and the lust for power.

Given these facts, what use is it to talk of sharing power? The whole idea is to win and keep power for oneself. All else is evasion; leaders as teachers, historical struggle as sociology, benevolence as a motive force, patriotism as the heartfelt aim. Read Suetonius. No word there, I’m afraid, of governments of national unity or power-sharing or even some elements of goodwill and compromise for the public good. All the Caesars would have laughed.


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