Thus far the coastlanders have had all the chances; let’s give the original people a try

Dear Editor,

Since Mr Robert Corbin announced that he will not be the presidential candidate for the PNCR-1G at the upcoming general elections, many opinions have been expressed as to the way forward. There are the sceptics who argue that Mr Corbin is grandstanding and will, by way of some flimsy excuse, re-enter the process.  Many also contend that he needs to also walk away from the party leadership to allow more credible people to rebuild the PNCR-1G and, as to be expected, there is also much strategic and personal positioning (‘Opportunity seen in Corbin move’ SN, April 31; ‘Van West Charles signals support for Winston Murray as PNCR presidential candidate’ SN, April18). Mr Corbin had said that the PNCR-1G believes Guyana needs a shared governance constitutional arrangement and intends to partner with others to win the election to make the necessary constitutional changes.  However, some have argued that given the specific bi-communal nature of our society, such a strategy is too risky and that the opposition should not participate in an election until a shared governance constitution is established (‘The myth surrounding the upcoming polls’ KN, April 14; ‘Reject elections under the old discredited winner take all political system’ KN, April17). From the standpoint of opposition politics, the above constitute some important fault lines that cry out for clarity and, perhaps, action.

Firstly, whatever the merits of their position, those who argue that the opposition should not participate in the upcoming general elections must know that given the nature of our party structure, they are blowing in the wind, for even if the PNCR-1G  and the AFC (extremely unlikely) refuse to participate, the TUF is still out there. What we need from those who make this kind of proposition is a more detailed outline of the approach they intend to use to make shared governance a reality and more importantly, why it is that such an approach is less risky and necessarily precludes the electoral option.  All approaches have some risk attached, but given what we know of the racial composition of the voting population, it appears to me that it would be extremely irresponsible for the opposition to forego the electoral option. However, electoral success will necessitate a united approach and my concern with those who advocate non-participation is that they could well detract from this, thus creating a self-filling prophesy.

That said, the non-participation school, is the most clear as to its goal and our poverty and associated disunity and functional malaise over the last sixty years have clearly made the case for some kind of shared governance. Therefore, the intention should not be to win government to perpetuate the present constitutional arrangements; it must be to win to share.  Given our ethnic composition, any notion that the PPP/C could be left out of a new government would be just as developmentally disastrous. I have accepted elsewhere that herein lies a problem, for it places the PPP/C in a more-or-less win-win situation (‘Systems that foster cross-ethnic collaboration should be part of this republic’s founding stone’ SN, January 9).

Secondly, as to Mr Corbin’s grandstanding, the present situation is significantly different from what I understand the previous one to have been, where a last minute opposition fracture created a void. The way to make Mr Corbin’s re-entry all but impossible is for the PNCR-1G to urgently choose a presidential candidate who then must be head of the list, bearing in mind however that in a unity discourse the PNCR-1G might have to trade this candidate.

Thirdly, I believe that, in our context, the entire issue of rebuilding the PNCR-1G is largely irrelevant. I do understand that members of a party must always seek to improve its electoral chances. How-ever, given the objective of a united front and our constitutional context, what is important is the total opposition votes.

Those who speak of rebuilding the PNCR-1G mainly intend to do so at the expense of the AFC, for, after sixty years of electoral experience, they would be dangerously optimistic to believe that (whatever candidate they field) they could significantly impact the PPP/C constituency.  Indeed, given a unity objective, it appears to me that the AFC is more of a problem for the PPP/C.  Even allowing for the ethnic composition of our society, given the nature of the PNCR-1G constituency, after nearly two decades in office the PPP/C would have expected to garner a greater number of the former’s supporters. How-ever, the AFC now creates a significant barrier and thus, in the context of opposition politics, serves a quite useful function.   Finally, a comment on the leadership positioning within the PNCR-1G and relationally within the proposed unity arrangement. I was imbibing with some friends in a little shop in Beterverwagting not long after Mr Corbin made his announcement and one suggestion coming from someone we may refer to as a street-wise person was that the PNCR-1G would do best to chose an Amerindian as its presidential candidate.  His contention was that a candidate from either of the major ethnic groups does not have the potential to significantly change the electoral balance and he pointed to the AFC experience in 2006.  It did not take long for most of us to recognise the merit of his suggestion, and further thought has now confirmed me in that position.  The Amerindian vote will be crucial at the next election and unlike the government, the opposition has little to offer to the hinterland communities. An Amerindian presidential candidate, backed up by all the good and the great in the opposition and total mobilisation, could radicalise the Amerindians and give general hope that change is possible. Moreover, at best, the PPP/C will only be able to marginally respond.  Some have argued that what is being suggested is tokenism. Given what we know about the powers of the president, I do not accept this position.  In any event, Guyanese politics is rife with tokenism on which positioning someone to take the highest office in the land must be an improvement.  Thus far, the coastlanders have had all the chances; let us give the original people a try.

Yours faithfully,
Henry B Jeffrey

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