The census figures substantially confirm the analysis I made in an article ‘The future of the PPP’ published in November, 2012. I had argued at that time that a declining Indian population had an impact on the election results of 2011, having regard to ethnic voting patterns. I had also indicated that the effect of a slowly decreasing Indian population could be seen in voting patterns and results since 1992. The census results show that in Region 6, a stronghold of the PPP, the population declined by 15,000 at the end of 2012. Adding Regions 5 and 3, also strongholds of the PPP, there was a total decline of 20,000 persons.
There was no publication of figures indicating the sizes of the various ethnic groups in Guyana. I had predicted at that time that the Indian population is likely to have gone below 40 per cent.
The census of 2002 showed the Indian population to be 42 per cent and I had based my prediction on the prior rate of decline. I do not know the reason for the non-publication of these figures but it is quite possible that it is because the Indian population is now below 40 per cent.
The confirmation of what I and others have predicted and which is now supported by the census figures as to the decreasing Indian population, holds considerable implications for the outcome of any future elections. It demonstrates that the loss of the absolute majority by the PPP was no accident and was not only related to apathy and loss of support.
It is now clear that it was also due to the reducing Indian population. This being so, it means that the correcting of political mistakes alone will not be enough to restore it to political health. It needs to expand its political support across ethnic or traditional lines.
In the event that some in the PPP still entertain the delusion they had in 2011 that cross-ethnic voting in favour of the party would have given it 60 per cent, the history of the PNCR shows what self-delusion can do. Desmond Hoyte believed that he had broken the back of ethnic voting in 1992 and that the PNC would win the elections. Political parties have consistently underestimated the power of ethnicity and the grip of ethnic voting patterns on the electorate. The PPP has done more than any other political party to expand its political support beyond its traditional base, but there has been little permanent success except in relation to the Amerindian people.
The obstacle has been the ethnic hold on political expression and opinion. With confirmation of the reducing Indian population by the census, if the PPP wants to continue holding political power, it has to be prepared to share it. This is currently anathema, and was already publicly rejected, but there is no other choice.
The Indian Arrival Committee (IAC) is close to the PPP. It issued a statement last week expressing its “alarm” over the census figures and its implications for economic growth.
After contrasting figures between Guyana and Singapore showing a similar level of development in 1960, it then showed how Singapore moved ahead dramatically while Guyana stagnated. The statement concluded that: “This reality should be cause for urgent action… The IAC strongly feels that the time has come for a serious re-examination of Governance initiatives which will enhance a feeling of inclusiveness and togetherness by all ethnic groups.”
This was followed by a statement by Mr Hydar Ally who writes in support of the PPP and government in another section of the press: “Finding a governance mechanism acceptable to all continues to remain a challenge to democracies all over the world. This is especially so in ethnically diverse societies such as ours, where voting behaviour is often clouded by considerations that have little to do with programmes and policies, but more to do with sectional interests such as ethnicity and race.”
A political statement such as this by the IAC, though not by Mr Hydar Ally, is unusual. Together, they give public recognition from these important PPP sources that more than a minority government is needed in the current conditions. It would not be an exaggeration to conclude that these statements probably reflect an internal PPP view at a high level which is now finding its way into the public domain.
The PPP has a golden opportunity to transform the political landscape in Guyana by boldly seizing the initiative and inviting the entire opposition in the government. An all-party government, even for a limited period with limited objectives, will restore political sanity. But even if the PPP considers this to be anathema, the AFC has offered a way out.
The AFC has offered an opportunity to the PPP to open a dialogue on the issue of governance. Its ten-point plan, whether meritorious or not, shows that it is prepared to shelve its plan to consider a no-confidence motion, which is an immediate threat to the survival of the government.
If the PPP is interested in survival with dignity, it can do worse than consider the ten-point plan along with a new coalition mechanism involving the AFC, if PNCR/AFC electoral collaboration is not on the cards. If not, the current situation will resume and probably get worse. The issue of a no-confidence motion will inevitably arise again. If the PPP later changes its mind, it might be too late.