Mr Burke and others fail to understand the need to develop a genuine multiracial democracy

Dear Editor,

Rickford Burke is the head of the Caribbean Guyana Institute of Democracy (CGID). The irony is that this outfit was founded after democracy was restored in Guyana in October 1992 through free and fair elections. Prior to 1992, Burke worked for the PNC, the very outfit that defrauded the state of any semblance of democracy.

Guyana has accomplished the first step on the road to developing genuine democracy, namely, free and fair elections. The second step is to break down the practice of ethnic voting and to end the existence of ethnic parties. If this second step were to be accomplished, the David Hinds’ and Ogunseye’s school of thought will die a natural death – and Guyana will become a genuine and flourishing multiracial democracy.

Burke’s letter sounds like a personal grudge against Robert Corbin, leader of the PNC, calling on Corbin to resign for apparently not being militant enough to oppose the ruling PPP. Burke accuses Corbin of being incompetent: he says the PNC gained five fewer seats than it should have – based on the numbers of African-Guyanese in the population, given the PR system, and the assumption that every African votes for the Afro-ethnic party.

Is CGID working for democracy, genuine multiracial democracy in Guyana? It is abundantly clear from all of Burke’s writings that he is aggrieved at the PNC’s loss of power – and he provides no clue as to why the PNC lost and how to regain power.

Burke provides no clue that he understands anything about how to win elections in multiracial societies. The same must be said about the PNC leadership.

Two main ethnic groups make up 90 percent of the population, one group, the Indians has a significant advantage over the Africans, about 8-10 percent. So do we need an election strategist from America (think Carville ), to tell us why the Indian party will always win and the African party will always lose? Everyone knows the Guyanese people vote straight race for ethnic parties. And this trend will continue for another 50 election cycles unless the PNC undertakes genuine reform.

The PNC has demonstrated repeatedly that its party can only be led by an African – all this has done is to reinforce to the nation that this party is determined to retain its pure African character. If every African were to vote for the PNC, it will still fall short of the 51 percent majority needed to win – and Indians will not vote for an African party, given the burden of the suppression of the Indian party for 28 years.

Guyana’s development of genuine multiracial democracy is in a deadlocked stage. No progress can be made until the PNC and people like Rickford Burke can begin to address the issues that created this deadlock.

One criterion of a functioning democracy is the “ebb-and-flow” of power between two major parties in a two-party or multi-party system. Every two or three election cycles the baton of power passes from one party to another.

The US, Britain, Canada, Barbados, Jamaica are good examples. Such an ebb-and-flow is not possible in Guyana. The Indian party will always win the elections. The school of thought developed by Hinds and Ogunseye will become more frustrated, and Burke and the PNC more agitated. The fact is the PNC doesn’t understand and shows no willingness to make itself appealing to the Indian majority in the country.

And, it has not agreed to a South African-style Truth and Reconciliation Commission where all its “excesses” and corrupt practices can be discussed openly and also to seek and obtain forgiveness and reconciliation with the population.

Studies in functioning democracies will show that there is always 15-20-25-30 percent swing voters who will be persuaded to vote for one party or another based on issues. Guyana and Trinidad are exceptions to this category of democracies. Voters’ minds are closed in Guyana and Trinidad – the only thing that matters is that their ethnic party wins. All elections in Guyana over the last 55 years have been grudge matches between the Africans and Indians.

So can anyone (especially Burke) talk seriously about developing genuine democratic practices in such political cultures without condemning the existence of ethnic parties?

The responsibility for the problem lies not with the people – but with the ethnic parties. It is time something is done about this problem to help these societies evolve into genuine functioning multi-racial democracies. The Carter Center was keenly aware of the entrenched ethnic voting in Guyana but chose to ignore the problem.

If the US government were to place all aid to Guyana on hold until the ethnic parties reform themselves becoming of a multiracial country, the parties will certainly have no choice but to do so quickly.

The ethnic parties have to see the need to undergo genuine reform – and if they cannot, they must be pressured and coerced to do so. The Political Affairs officer at the US embassy in Georgetown should not pretend Guyana doesn’t have a problem with its democratic system.

Yours faithfully,

Mike Persaud

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