Opposition parties in the Caribbean are victims of democratic exclusion

Dear Editor,

Some observers are taking the AFC to task for not doing more. They correctly claim that the AFC has gone silent. The AFC, through the pen of Ms Holder, has responded by pointing out that it has been doing quite a lot. But both the AFC and the critics miss the larger point. The AFC cannot objectively be much more effective than it is for two major reasons.

First, it is quite difficult for opposition parties in the Caribbean to meaningfully contribute to national decision making; they are the victims of “democratic exclusion.” Ms Holder herself complained about this when she was MP for another party. The AFC made a deliberate choice to become a conventional party and seek change solely through the conventional system of winner-take-all elections. In doing so it locked itself in a corner with little or no room to manoeuvre. It deliberately chose “democratic exclusion,” including exclusion from the media which it now complains about. At one point the AFC declared itself a movement, but movements don’t choose the electoral arena as their chief battleground. Perhaps those who are now surprised at the AFC’s situation believed that the party is a movement.

The PNC is the only opposition party in Guyana with the capacity to wriggle itself out of such a corner. But even the PNC’s capacity to do so has been seriously diminished since the 2006 election when it was forced to follow the AFC’s lead and contest an election that the opposition should not have contested. Elections under the present circumstances reinforce “democratic exclusion” or what Professor Freddy Kissoon calls “elected dictatorship.” Any party with any political sense should recognize that the objective is not to fight elections as an end in itself but to fight for new and democratic conditions for elections so that they become solutions rather than the problem they are now.

A second reason for the AFC’s ineffectiveness lies in the reluctance and/or inability of opposition party leaders across the board to use the little space in the system to undermine and expose it. The point I am getting at is that despite the inherent exclusionary nature of the present system there is still some space for the opposition to slow down the pressure.

You would not change the system but you can soften it enough to make it less resistant to change. But this requires an understanding of politics and society beyond chat and intrigue. It also requires a large vision beyond winning an election. The AFC has five MPs, more than any “third party” has had since 1968. How come the effect is less than those in previous parliaments that only had one or two MPs? Ms Holder must know that she did more in one month as an MP in the last parliament that she has done in one year in the current parliament.

Yours faithfully,

David Hinds

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