The AFC plans to engage all parties towards national reconciliation in the aftermath of the polls, according to leader Raphael Trotman, who says that he has accepted that an electoral alliance would not be in the best interest of either the party or the nation.
“We, of course, want to win the elections, but I don’t think that winning is all or should be all. We really need to focus on the day after the elections and one of the things I have said to the party is that I am keen on post-elections engagement with the stakeholders,” Trotman explained in an interview last week.
He was selected last month by the party’s national executive to be its prime ministerial candidate, after Vice-Chair Sheila Holder withdrew due to illness. Trotman, who described his addition to the ticket as being by “default and not design,” had declined an earlier nomination. However, with his decision to accept, he said one of the conditions of being AFC presidential candidate Khemraj Ramjattan’s running mate was re-engagement with other parties.
His position is that no one party has all the resources or talent to manage the country properly and he said that the country is doomed unless the parties find a way to accommodate each other. In this regard, he said that the AFC had to be careful to avoid becoming part of the status quo by allowing itself to become part of the political divisions rather than part of the solution to the very problem.
Trotman, who has voiced concern over the disunity among the parties in the National Assembly, reiterated his frustration with the way the house and national affairs are being managed. “The system, the way it is designed, is meant to keep us at each other’s throats and by extension, unable to work meaningfully to solve the problems,” he said, while calling the scuttled enhanced framework for cooperation proposed by President Bharrat Jagdeo after the last elections a missed opportunity to advance political dialogue.
He admitted that the AFC had started to become part of the problem through conduct that was too much like the other parties. “There are moments when we would have lost our moorings and lost sight of the reason why we were formed, which is to act as an alternative—but not as an exclusive, independent alternative. It was important that we brought balance in a very bi-polar situation… as a bridge between the two groups,” he said.
Barring any major announcements, the party will likely enter the elections on its own and Trotman said it has a longer-term vision than an electoral alliance of bringing healing and development to the country. “If we recognise that there are two opposing sides and based on ethnicity, the moment we weigh in, we are saying to the other side, ‘we are against you,’ thereby defeating the purpose in our unique circumstances in Guyana…. It would not have been in the best interest of the AFC or nationally, because it would have been that you weighed in, in a sense, on a race war, which we want to avoid,” he explained.
Trotman is in favour of a change in government, but said that the goal is not simply getting rid of the PPP, rather it is establishing a new order. “An electoral alliance would be an alliance of convenience, a means to an end, it is likely not to produce the longer term results or realise that vision what we have,” he added. “There was a time when I favoured an alliance, but I have come around. Because whilst I favoured an alliance, a lot of the people who voted for the AFC would meet me in Berbice or elsewhere, and tell me, ‘not at all.’ And that was surprising to me.”
At the same time, he said that he remains in favour of building better relationships among the parties and national alliances. In this vein, he added that should the AFC win the elections, he would refuse to be part of a government that does not have representation from both the PPP and the APNU. Additionally, he said that if the party does not win, he would refuse any invitation to be part of a government that excludes any one side.
He added that while the PPP exists to keep the PNCR and the APNU out of office and vice versa, the AFC wants to focus on national development, which would necessitate involving the best of all the parties.
The AFC’s decision to maintain its policy of not aligning with either the PPP or the PNCR for polls scuttled efforts for a broad opposition coalition to contest the elections. The other major opposition parties, PNCR, GAP, WPA, and NFA subsequently founded APNU, which they say is open to participation from all.
Asked whether the AFC’s decision against participation in the coalition did more harm than good for the party, Trotman conceded that damage was done, but noted that it was not irreparable. “All of us need to find a way to work together and steer the country forward. And to say to one group ‘I will never have anything to do with you’ is really not the right approach. The damage is not irreparable and we are in the process of repairing it.”
He also blamed the electoral system for the disunity among the parties and he said that the party would also lobby for a new year-long constitutional reform process after the elections.
Ultimately, he said a 51% parliamentary majority could not equate to total effective governance in a multi-ethnic society. He called the executive presidency a disaster, while saying that whether it was real or imagined, there would always be people who would feel excluded. In addition, he is in favour of reviewing the distribution of proportional representation and constituency seats in the National Assembly, which is currently 40 to 25. He said there needs to be a devolution of power at the regional and village levels, which should be more independent from central government. “The people must have power. I think politicians have seized too much power and they either can’t handle it or abuse it,” he said. He identified party member Nigel Hughes as the person who would spearhead the process for the party, while saying that he would do it not as a member of government but as a jurist who has Guyana at heart.
According to Trotman, the party’s approach to engagement with both the PPP and the PNCR had been among the issues of contention between him and Ramjattan. Coming from different backgrounds, he said differences were inevitable, but he played down any acrimony between them. “Khemraj and I have never had a ‘buse out or cuss out or anything close to fight or anything like that,” he said. “There have been tense moments and you would expect that in an organization that is new, that is growing, learning and finding out what it really stands for,” he added.
He added that the party and its leaders have on a daily basis faced attempts to push them to represent narrow, racial interests, but their friendship has never been affected. “There were moments of tension about different issues, but at no point were we at loggerheads where we could not work with each other,” he said.
He described himself as an idealist, while observing that Ramjattan is a pragmatist and he argued there needed to be a balance between the two outlooks. “…He does have great political instincts which I admire and he would not have to accept some of my argumentation,” he said, while adding that in pursuit of its core interests, the party has to look at its alliances.
While the party has attracted several former members of the Rise, Organise and Rebuild (ROAR) Guyana Movement, Trotman denied that there has been an ideological influence. He also pointed to his former membership in the PNC and noted that since it is considered in some quarters the worst thing to happen to Guyana, he was not in a place exclude persons from the PPP or GAP who may wish to join the AFC. He also suggested that the addition of the former ROAR members could benefit the party in terms of widening its constituency.
On the latter point, Trotman noted that the party has been seeing more support from Indo-Guyanese, who are believed to have contributed minimal support at the last election. He credited the situation to “an overwhelming desire for change,” influenced in part by the PPP’s poor record. “The opposition parties, with a modicum of work, should see their fortunes improving this year,” he said, while adding that “the level of corruption is now so offensive to the point where people are repulsed.”
He also credited gains in support to the AFC’s gains in credibility and he cited attendance at recent party meetings in Albion and in Enmore. “I was quite surprised. I have seen even more East Indians getting involved than I had seen in either ’06 or with the PNC,” he said. “There is a change in the wind and many people have started to give us a second look.”
He admitted that there was disappointment by those supporters who left the PNCR for the AFC, expecting dissatisfied supporters would leave the PPP for the new party as well. With the election of David Granger as the PNCR and APNU candidate, he said he expected that the party could lose some of the PNCR defectors it picked up at the last elections. He added that it is their right to choose their representative, but he hoped they would allow the AFC to persuade them to stay.