When a small but meaningful number of Indian voters chose to cast their votes for the Alliance For Change and others not to vote at all rather than vote for the PPP/C, they made what I previously conceived as a possibility and referred to as an opening up of “a mammoth possibility for national renewal.” They and the AFC, which in the face of much opposition defined and implemented the strategy which enabled us to be in the present position, should be applauded for providing us with the best developmental opening in our political history.
I was one of those who believed that the PPP/C had the Indian people so locked in fear of the PNC and the political possibilities of an African dominated government that the kind of opening that has now occurred was near impossible. The unfortunate political occurrences that have taken place in Guyanese history can only properly, even if not equally, be blamed on all the political contestants of the time. However, in order to maintain its hold upon its constituency over the three decades of PNC rule the PPP constructed and successfully sold such an awful picture of the PNC and its atrocities that the kind of possibilities that have now arisen appeared remote in the extreme.
The AFC and particularly its Indian adherents, had a somewhat different view of the Indian reality. They rightly held that they had to present the Indian population with a PPP-‘Lite’ (no pejorative intended), if they were going to make any headway. This, helped by the PPP/C’s certainty in the continued relevance of the racial political equation, which resulted in heightened levels of arrogance, the blatant disregard for the use of state resources and notable defections, proved a successful approach.
However, the present situation is fragile and success will depend upon how well the system develops and is managed. In my view, if the medium term goal is to constitutionalise a consensus governmental arrangement, the opposition, as opposition, has sufficient power and policy space to achieve that goal. Indeed, it will have less policy space if it finds itself in a coalition government with a PPP/C that does not support constitutionalised shared governance. Furthermore, an effective opposition will have to be institutionalized in any consensus government arrangement but it will presently be absent if all the parties are in coalition and this may well leave the Guyanese people in a dire strait.
The fragility has other dimensions, for example, many in the PPP/C must be waiting anxiously for the opposition to make some major blunder to afford them the opportunity to drive the horses back into the stables, so to speak. This is the kind of politics some know best and they are more likely to see the present happening as a setback rather than an opening. This is not to deny that there are members and supporters of the PPP/C who view this reliance upon racial politics in the 21st century as anachronistic, but they are a minority. However, on my understanding, the PPP/C will not easily force an early elections, for to do so would effectively put an end to the first of Mr. Ramotar’s two possible presidential terms. Nonetheless, the challenge for the opposition is to achieve its goals without jeopardising the existing brittle framework. In this regard, it is important that it now presents a programme of action that addresses the most immediate concerns of the majority and which the PPP/C can only reject at its peril!
Then there is the relationship between the AFC and APNU: what conceptual decision making framework will govern this relationship? Importantly, the AFC has acquired about one quarter of the parliamentary seats previously held by APNU and given our inbuilt majoritarian tendencies, some might seek to treat it as a junior partner. That would be a mistake, for the qualitative value of the AFC’s contribution to the democratisation process far outweighs its numerical weight. Further, it would make nonsense of APNU’s call for consensual governance at the national level while relying on a majoritarian conceptualisation at more immediate levels. Of course, the development and maintenance of a productive working relationship must also mean that the AFC realistically assess and recognise its own position.
I had argued previously that the PPP/C could be held below 50% if APNU was able to bring out all its traditional supporters, garner a significant portion of the Amerindian vote and be vigilant at polling stations on elections day. In my view they have successfully achieved all of these things and should also be congratulated. Some have argued that it is now the Afro-Guyanese who are playing the racial game and have deserted the AFC. In mitigation of this I would argue that many Africans who voted for the AFC felt as if they were taken for a ride because there was not any reciprocal level of Indian support for that party in 2006. Then again, for the most part, the African population sees its salvation in some form of consensual government arrangement and the AFC has not been strong on this issue, and finally the move from the PNC to the AFC was essentially because of disillusionment with the leadership of the former. In passing, the last contention suggests that perhaps people are not as different as we tend to think and in this lies both a reality check and hope for the PPP/C. Disillusionment with the PNC leadership in 2006 led to disaffection from its ranks to a less threatening alternative and today disillusionment with the leadership of the PPP/C has presented a similar result but a greater opportunity.
What up to quite recently our predecessors did not properly understand we now know, and we must agree with Sir Arthur Lewis, one of our region’s most gifted sons, who is considered the first modern consensus theorist, when he claimed that while majority rule may be acceptable in homogeneous societies, in countries such as ours with deep social cleavages “it is totally immoral, inconsistent with the primary meaning of democracy and destructive of any prospect of building a nation in which different peoples might live together in harmony.” We need a kind of democracy that places equal value on each of our lives. Not a kind of mechanical equality but an organic process that facilitates the flowering of a Guyanese “nation” of which we all could be proud.