President Donald Ramotar would be forgiven for thinking that his term at the head of a minority government has not got off to the most auspicious of beginnings, with some worrying signs in the immediate aftermath of the elections.
The PPP/C’s ungracious statement voicing disappointment with the results of the general election not only rebuked its supporters for failing to vote but also suggested that, had it lost the presidency, “[i]t might almost have been the last free and fair election [Guyanese] would have experienced.” Rather than coming across as “a wake-up call to the nation,” the crude and cynical tone of the statement sits uncomfortably with Mr Ramotar’s statesmanlike opening words at his inauguration: “The results have been declared. These results reflect the democratic will of the people which is paramount and which must be respected. This is the very essence of democracy and our elections have reaffirmed our maturity as a democratic nation, something of which we should all be proud.”
Then, Mr Ramotar named a bloated 20-person Cabinet with precious little new blood and which for all intents and purposes is a recycling of his predecessor’s team. The emerging impression is that the PPP/C government is circling its wagons, deaf and blind to the signal from the electorate that it cannot be business as usual.
Worst of all though was the use, on Tuesday, of rubber bullets by the police to break up an illegal march by APNU protesters, causing injury to prominent members of the opposition party, elderly citizens and bystanders, and traumatising innocent students and a teacher of nearby St Sidwell’s Primary School and a nursery school. This show of force, excessive according to eyewitnesses, would seem to confirm the impression of a government determined to appear strong, even as its position has been weakened at the polls, with almost 52% of the electorate voting against it
None of this augurs well for the future and the events of the past week would have been disappointing for those who had hoped that we were about to experience a sea change in our politics.
Let us however try to bring some perspective to bear. Given the polarised nature of our politics, it was perhaps unrealistic to have expected that a government of national unity could come into being overnight. There are just too many non-negotiables for the three parliamentary parties. On reflection, it is clear that what is now required is a process of mature politics and dialogue, but the challenge is how exactly to build mutual trust.
As has already been noted in several forums, the real test of the new dispensation will come in Parliament. Happily, President Ramotar acknowledged this in his inaugural address. But the onus is on him to show leadership so that the PPP/C might develop a modus vivendi with the other parties for cooperation towards, hopefully, a new form of more inclusive governance.
Our editorial on Tuesday (‘Election results and opportunities‘) dealt with the possibilities offered by the new Parliament. But the first hurdle will be agreement on the post of Speaker, with President Ramotar signalling his intent to propose Ralph Ramkarran. This may not be the cleverest of opening gambits given that the combined opposition will hold the majority in Parliament. Indeed, in our humble opinion, the smarter move would be to show willing to support any consensus candidate being proposed by the opposition, if the President is to live up to the promise of engagement contained in his speech: “This new arrangement in our Parliament would no doubt test our maturity as political leaders. It will demand that pettiness be put aside and our nation’s well being should always be our most important guiding influence.”
There have already been numerous commentaries on the golden opportunity being provided to President Ramotar to put a new face on Guyana’s politics. The President should therefore already be pondering his own initiatives to live up to his inaugural pledge to make Guyana “a better place for all… to govern with the interest of all; and to ensure that the legitimate aspirations of our people are respected, and the resources of Guyana must benefit all our people.”
In this respect, he can start with a genuine attempt to put a new face literally on key institutions of governance, by appointing new members of State boards on the basis of character and suitability, regardless of race or political affiliation, whether real or perceived; by moving to put the public service on a more professional footing by promoting people on the basis of merit and competence alone and by improving the conditions of service; and by doing the same to revamp the foreign service, by replacing party loyalists with qualified and experienced diplomats and putting the lie to the despicable view that there are no African-Guyanese suitably qualified to serve as ambassadors of the country.
President Ramotar and his PPP/C government should not confuse making such positive moves with weakness. For by demonstrating the confidence to right many of the wrongs of the past, they will be showing strength, thereby winning the trust of the people, as we continue to yearn for the maturity among our political leaders and peace and prosperity for all, alluded to by the President himself.