Guyana currently stands at a crossroads. Politically we are entering new territory and as result it can be expected that our first steps may be a bit uncertain. At the moment some of this uncertainty revolves around what APNU should do next, as the party that feels the recently concluded election was flawed. Without looking back at the election too much it should be noted that the election process itself was eye-opening, since the scale of PPP losses was somewhat unexpected. While the level of corruption and executive excesses during the Jagdeo presidency were expected to translate to polling day losses for the PPP, migration and poor economic performance seem to have also dented PPP support. While there are still several unanswered questions about the overall conduct of the election and the counting of ballots, Guyana’s electoral history tells us that very little can be done to correct electoral anomalies, no matter how solid the evidence.
As a result, parties will soon have to look to the future and put the election behind them, in spite of the reservations about the process. In doing so they must also understand that all victories are transient and while APNU and the AFC have a parliamentary majority there is a possibility that the current parliament and government will not see out its term. There is also the very real possibility that an opposition inspired failure will help restore the old PPP majority. Therefore, careful forward planning is necessary.
A key part of this forward planning is a strong partnership between APNU and the AFC.
This partnership needs to be built on a ‘one one dutty build dam’ philosophy, that is, that each small reform builds momentum to an overall long-term strategic goal, reducing the powers of the executive president and strengthening the role of parliament. The current political assemblage shows some of the most disturbing shortcomings of the presidential and first-past-the-post political systems. We are now in a situation in which a candidate that has won only 48.6% of the vote has a free hand in appointing every minister and ambassador. This lack of opposition input in governance is the essential feature of the first-past-the-post system and is problematic in a society that is so politically polarised. Guyana needs a political system in which such ministerial and ambassadorial nominations make presentations outlining their plans and are vetted by parliament.
The opposition parties now control parliament and need to work together to push through the reforms they have been clamouring for over the past 19 years. The plan of action can be divided into short, medium and long term goals.
The first step in terms of short-term goals should be to clearly set out what the agenda should be for the next 5 years and to set up modalities to achieve this. For this APNU and AFC need to conclude a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) that stipulates the key priorities of the two opposition parties and establishes modalities to achieve them. These priorities need to be jointly agreed on. I would suggest they concentrate on issues that both parties and their supporters can agree upon namely, lowering VAT, electoral reform, laws on campaign funding transparency, the broadcasting act and finally overall constitutional reforms.
Guyana is currently crippled economically under the weight of its VAT system which stands at a whopping 16%. Guyana sits at the higher end of the VAT scale internationally and regionally. By comparison the highest rates of VAT are found in the Nordic states –Denmark and Sweden at 25%, Trinidad’s VAT rate is set at 15%, South Africa and 14%, Bolivia at 13% and Venezuela at 12%. It should be noted that though Trinidad, South Africa and Venezuela have similar VAT rates as Guyana their per capita and real income is much higher. Thus, the average Venezuelan or Trinidadian much wealthier than the average Guyanese and can therefore bear a 15% or 12% VAT. Cognizant of Guyana’s budgetary needs, but also the negative impact of high VAT on business and consumption the opposition parties should with their majority push through laws that lower VAT to 9-12%.
The OAS report on the Guyanese election stated quite emphatically that the playing field in Guyana in the run up to the election was far from level.
State control of a section of the media and the ability of the PPP to use taxpayers‘ money to fund their campaign machinery gave them an unfair advantage. These issues need to be addressed before the next election, thus parliament needs to put laws in place that increase transparency in campaign funding, ensuring that state funds are not utilized by political parties to further their own causes.
The political dust is now beginning to settle and once the winners and losers assess their gains and losses they now need to begin to think about what comes next and their plan of action for the life of this parliament, which may or may not be considerably less than 5 years.
This plan should be one that is rooted in what is actually achievable in the next 5 years and also what is most needed by the Guyanese people. Overall the opposition needs to work together to achieve a series of small tangible reforms that benefit the Guyanese people as a whole.