Not a defender of the PPP

Dear Editor,

I am responding to comments made about me in the letter ‘Shared governance is no solution to Guyana’s problem,’ by Mr Mike Persaud (SN, June 4).  It is only now that the letter was brought to my attention and it contains inaccuracies that need correction.

Mr Persaud describes me as “the greatest defender of the PPP.”  I am not now nor ever was a defender of the PPP or any other party.  In fact, I am opposed to several of the policies and programmes of the PPP and have been a vocal critic of many of them since 1993. I am a defender of principles, chief among them is democratic governance – we must accept the outcome of free and fair elections and not call for violence when it does not go our way. I concede I was a defender and supporter of the Patriotic Coalition for Democracy and I was attracted to some of the Rodneyite ideas of the WPA, but the party has lost its way since 1992. Also, I made financial contributions to all of the parties of the PCD and to organizations that fought the dictatorship within Guyana and the US. But that in no way makes me a defender of any party that violates democratic norms.

Mr Persaud disputes that the PPP/C cabinet is racially balanced.  The government website shows that (the numbers keep changing but since 1992) the party has had a racially balanced cabinet reflecting the approximate composition of the population.  The PPP has a mix of Chinese, Whites, Mixed, Amerindians, Africans, and Indians (a majority) in the cabinet, though I don’t think there are Chinese and Whites in the current cabinet. The same is true of the ethnic balance of the party’s representation in parliament. In 2006, the PPP won 55% of the votes of which approximately 46% are derived from Indians and the other 9% from non-Indians.  Yet the party generously distributed parliamentary seats and cabinet berths in approximate proportion to the composition in the population, demonstrating it wants a racially balanced government. Mr Persaud disputes that Guyana is not a dictatorship.  For simplicity, because of space, a dictatorship is defined as a government that comes to power through undemocratic means and abuses peoples’ rights, etc.  The PPP was democratically elected in every election from 1992 and in fact it is fair to say it never lost an election since 1953. While a case can be made (and Persaud has not done so) that the government has violated some of the intent of democratic rule, to describe the PPP as a dictatorship contravenes any standard definition of the term. If we describe the PPP as an ethnic dictatorship, then we will have to so describe the Republican and Democratic Parties in the US because both depend on their ethnic bases to win elections.   In some parts of the country, the Republicans are always winning elections because of racially polarized voting and appealing to the fear of the minority ethnic group taking over, and the same holds true for the Democrats.  That is the nature of ethnic coalition politics in multi-ethnic states.  It is ludicrous to describe them as ethnic dictatorships when they are democratically elected.

Mr Persaud claims I am endorsing ethnic parties by saying half of the PPP cabinet is non-Indian.  I disagree.  Mine is a factual statement and has nothing to do with any endorsement from me or my views on ethnicity.  Every multi-ethnic society has ethnic parties or depends on ethnic bloc voting, including the US and India, the world’s two largest democracies.  In multi-ethnic societies, cabinet berths are doled out based on the seats (or votes) they bring to the party or coalition. That is the case in India, the US, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Kenya, Trinidad, etc. That is political realism.  In Guyana, however, I agree with Mr Persaud that African/Mixed candidates don’t bring many votes to the PPP but are rewarded with cabinet berths way beyond what they contribute to the party in vote share, and Indian voters complain about it saying they are marginalized and non-Indians get the overwhelming majority of resources.  But the PPP considers this as power sharing – involving all the ethnic groups in the governance of the nation.  Critics like Messrs Persaud, David Hinds, etc, don’t buy into the PPP model.  Persaud wants an Indian to head the PNC and an African to head the PPP and he feels, hey presto! ethnic voting ends. Mr Hinds wants the PNC to be included in the government because it is seen as the true representative of the Africans.

I have a different model of shared governance.  During my 20 years of struggle against the dictatorship, I held the view that no race should dominate another race and I still hold that view.  I support a federalist structure of decentralized power like the US combined with the South African, Fiji, Swiss, Belgium kind of model, in which all groups partake in governance at all levels. Like Mr Persaud, I am opposed to racial window-dressing.  But that is pragmatism in Guyana’s politics that was institutionalized by Burnham and that seems to be working for the PPP.  It is naïve to think putting an African to head the PPP will win over African votes or end ethnic polarization.  Ditto an Indian to head the PNC, although the PPP has made gains in cross-racial voting. Mr Persaud needs be reminded that an African-American headed the Democratic Party and the racial voting pattern did not change. The BJP put Muslims in its leadership council and still could not win Muslim votes. The PNM put an Indian as Chairman of its party and still could not win Indian votes. The UNC put an African as Chairman who also ran for a seat and still could not get African votes.

Ethnic voting is ingrained in every multi-ethnic society, even moreso over the last twenty years. It is naïve to think we can end ethnic voting or ethnic politicking. The great Gandhi and Mandela could not do it.  Non-racial Jagan could not do it. Bill Clinton could not do it. Vishnu Bisram and Ravi Dev will not be able to end it. Even in the US, ethnic polarization is becoming stronger. What is needed is some kind of governance that will be inclusive of all the groups and interests in a nation.

In conclusion, I did not, have not, and will not defend poor governance, and I support the idea of inclusivity.

Yours faithfully,
Vishnu Bisram

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