To many people’s surprise The United Force (TUF) announced earlier this year that it would contest the 2011 general elections. Up until the announcement the general feeling among the electorate was that the party’s best moments were behind it, that its time had come and gone.
TUF first contested general elections in Guyana in 1964 when it received just over 12 per cent of the vote and won seven seats in the National Assembly, becoming the junior partner in coalition government with the People’s National Congress. (PNC) TUF contested general elections again in 1968 at which time its vote slipped to 7.4 per cent and the number of its seats in the National Assembly to four. Having not contested general elections during the 1970’s TUF returned to the political affray in 1980, receiving 2.9 per cent of the votes and retaining two sets in the parliament. In 1992 the part was reduced to a single seat occupied by its Leader and serving Minister of Labour in the current People’s Progressive Party/ CIVIC administration Manzoor Nadir.
The return of TUF to electoral politics defies the view that the Party was on the threshold of being consigned to the dustbin of history. That apart, it evokes memories of an earlier time when TUF was regarded as having virtual control of the Amerindian constituency and sections of the urban business class. The new Party Leader, Valerie Lowe-Garrido, a businesswoman with no known political experience has already said that TUF is still interested in the country’s Amerindian community. “We’re going back to basics our base long ago was the Amerindians so were going to start from there, we’re going into every region where the Amerindians live, every village to meet our people again to let them know that we will be here for them,” is what the TUF presidential candidate is quoted as saying.
How well TUF will do at the 2011 elections remains the subject of pure conjecture since political pundits are already wondering aloud as to whether the party may not have long been elbowed out of its traditional political space. Manzoor Nadir, is regarded by Lowe-Garrido as having cost TUF support by hitching the party’s sails to the political mast of the PPP/C.
As one writer wrote late last year TUF, at its inception, set itself the task of becoming “the guardian of the conservative tradition in Guyanese politics. In the post-war era of mass party representation when working people al over the world were marching for change and colonies were clamoring for independence, there was little to be conservative about.”
There are those who will argue that if, at least in form the PPP has not shed its communist cloak, it has done so in substance, claiming much of the political space that was once occupied by TUF. The PPP/C presents itself as the champion of the private sector, that, notwithstanding the fact that the remnants of the conservative capitalist class in Guyana say that the system is sufficiently riddled with corruption to render it inimical to the country’s development.
Assessments of how well TUF might do at the general elections centre around a number of issues including the memory of an electorate which has not had to deal seriously with the party for some while. Apart from that and despite the political pretence to the contrary, there are no issues of economic ideology to be dealt with at these elections.
There appears to be no issue on which TUF can outflank its opponents.
Except of course that in its heyday TUF was buttressed by the support of the Roman Catholic Church which used its religious outreach to influence Amerindian communities. Arguably, the Roman Catholic influence in the interior is now weaker and the government has employed an aggressive handout policy to recruit the Amerindian vote.
Over time the party has had its challenges not least those that arose in 1969 after some of the party’s members became implicated in an attempted rebellion against the state. Thereafter, and particularly in the wake of the resignation of Peter D’Aguiar as party Leader, its membership dwindled dramatically.
What does not help TUF in its effort to make an unlikely political comeback is the quixotic story that attaches itself to its one-time Leader, Manzoor Nadir. Following the 2001 elections in which TUF won one seat in the National Assembly the PPP offered the TUF a ministerial position in the government.
While Nadir said that the decision to accept the PPP/C’s offer was preceded by “extensive consultations” among both the Party’s executive and ordinary members, that did little to suppress the feeling that the arrangement had been triggered by his personal ambitions. More than that, old TUF party hands have suggested that Nadir has shown no real signs of acting in TUF’s interests during his tenure as a PPP/C Minister.
TUF may be entering the 2011 electoral race as one of the less-fancied political parties, but at the very least it appears to have confounded these critics who, long ago, had consigned the party to the dustbin of Guyana’s political history.