African Guyanese feel they can’t win the elections and are excluded from power, hence the call for power sharing

Dear Editor,

David Hinds and Tacuma Ogunseye represent a particular school of thought that advocates “executive power sharing” in Guyana. They have made their arguments in many letters over the last few years. And, Tacuma has considered the question of armed struggle to achieve this. SN, answered Tacuma with a very forceful and effective editorial on May 2, 2006, pointing out that the government had been duly elected in fair elections and was not an oppressive dictatorship and “we do not believe that there is justification for an armed extra-parliamentary resistance”. You ended by saying: “The armed resistance poses a serious problem not only for the government but for the lawful parliamentary opposition. Violence is incompatible with the rule of law and the open society to which they are committed. Do minorities in plural societies have a right to assert what they perceive to be their rights by violence? Is that what Mr Ogunseye is suggesting?”

Now Dennis Higgins has made an effective response in his letter captioned “Armed struggle is not an option, peaceful co-existence is our only hope” (07.11.04).

Considering the high level of ethnic voting and the consequent negation of the meaning of democracy, a reasonable person cannot deny that there is merit to Hinds’s and Ogunseye’s arguments and analyses. The ruling Indo-ethnic PPP gets a large majority of its votes from one ethnic group, Indians – and Africans have a big problem with that, as they should. Africans have no stake in a government for which they haven’t voted.

Everything we know about the Indo-ethnic PPP and the Afro-ethnic PNC suggests that they reinforce and perpetuate ethnic voting. Both parties have unwritten rules proclaiming that they can only be led by an ethnic leader. Following the deaths of both parties’ founder-leaders, they have had more than one chance to demonstrate that their parties are not ethnic by electing a leader outside their main support group.

Commonsense would suggest that if the PNC wants to broaden its support base, its party’s executive council would elect an Indian to head the party. And the PPP, to achieve the same benefit would do likewise and elect an African. Now, answer to the nation, wouldn’t such a change bring an end to the era of ethnic parties? And, wouldn’t such a change usher in an era of cross-racial voting and genuine multiracial democracy.

Already, the PPP has telegraphed that its next leader will be another Indian to follow the current term-limited Presidency of Mr Jagdeo. This country has a substantial proportion of Africans and, given the current culture of ethnic voting – and Indians alone accounting for 43 percent of the population – can we have any doubt about the Indo-ethnic party winning the next elections? Wouldn’t the African population also thinking and voting race feel permanently excluded from sharing in political power? Hinds’s and Ogunseye’s arguments are not without merit – but their recommended solution is wrong.

If these gentlemen would have their way, there would be no point in holding future elections and Guyana could no longer consider itself a democratic country. Power-sharing, the kind advocated by Hinds and Ogunseye is simply not democracy – and it would lead to more government-breakdowns, deadlocks and endless problems.

The main lesson of the elections since 1992 is that “window-dressing” – the PPP’s executive council selecting an African to be the deputy (who will never succeed to the Presidency, even in the event of death of the President) and the PNC doing precisely same thing – will not work. Such window-dressing practices, while preserving the ethnic perception and reality of their parties, will not break down the entrenched habit of ethnic voting. Guyana needs genuine multi-racial parties to bring an end to racial voting and to usher in genuine multiracial democracy.

The executive of the PPP should let it be known that its next Presidential candidate will be an African – and let this new dynamic begin to work itself in the body politic. Prepare the population for change ahead of the next elections. Until this happens, the Hinds’ and Ogunseye’s school of thought will flourish.

Yours faithfully,

Mike Persaud

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