The new president is in place and the cabinet has been sworn in. A peaceful, though unauthorised, march has been fired upon by a tense and confused police force. Mr Donald Ramotar has clearly opted for “continuity.” Which, in a certain conception of our reality, translates simply as the perpetuation of the protection which the PPP practices with regard to some of its supporters. I do not think that either Mr Ramotar or Mr Rohee gave orders for the event to be stained with blood. But, strangely, there is, still, a significance of “continuity” in the gesture. Rubber bullets this time or water cannon the next, the PPP’s term as a minority government is, and risks to be, further sullied by this type of occurence. That remorse and trembling will seize that party as images of blood-stained marchers are flashed on TV, is unlikely. The party/government has been accused of worse . The fact is that the PPP needs to project itself as it defends its supporters and the business community from the occasional disorder that it breeds as it governs. It is the PPP’s compact with a segment of the population. It was an important sub-theme of the campaign just ended.
For if the campaign discourse, as concentrate of a time-worn narrative, is to be recalled, the PPP was saying to people from Charity to the Corentyne that its mission is to shelter self-identified victims from a group that would bring an end to free and fair elections and all the psychic satisfactions the results offer “the protected”; that would be handing out guns to the PNC opposition ranks; that would be re-instating a regime of jobs for party cards. They (the PPP) would, in short, be protecting some against others.
Of course everyone has the right to represent and protect any group or band. But, assuredly, the enterprise becomes morally questionable when pecuniary or other benefit is derived by the “protectors” in the process. Or when the powers attributed the leadership of the “protectors” is exercised in defiance of fairness and the intentions of the constitution. The PPP when judged by these terms has occasionally defiled its mission and disappointed many of its constituents. And the role of protector, once voided of its validating ethical content, has become only the amplification and play on old fears.
The fact that many of its supporters live in a condition of contrived or delusional fear imposes on the party a role that brings with it the assurance of continuance in power once the fearful comprise a majority. In this regard, the PNC, also ridiculously cast by some of its own supporters in the role of violent protestors, has managed over time to assume a new political identity that has seen it re-cast as a force for order and rational politics.
So, we understand that it is this contrived role of “protector” that the PPP has chosen for itself as the banquet around the trough continues. It is by now evident that an electorate less familiar with the myth of PNC rule but grown up with the odorous reality of PPP control, has begun to judge the party the way all ‘protectors‘ are judged. Not only by what they are saving you from, but also by what they are raking in for themselves.
For the PPP to be taken seriously now, its own supporters have got to be persuaded that Mr Ramotar is there to clean up. For an increasing portion of the traditional base has succumbed to that inertia or disaffection that Robert Persaud (perhaps) persuades himself is merely an excess of satisfaction. Self-delusion aside, it would be a mistake for the PPP to throw itself into a new electoral campaign now, hoping to recover lost or indifferent votes. For Mr Ramotar has so far done nothing to signal to his people and sympathetic observers that a page has been turned.
Let us however continue by conceding that the PPP cannot at this time share a government with the PNC/APNU. Any sharing of government deprives the PPP of its elemental role as protector. Its self-conception and self-portrayal requires an enemy that will be permanent, for it wishes its electoral base to be permanent.
And an enemy must be endowed with certain characteristics.
The party therefore becomes, in these terms, not only the protector, but the conquering protector. To which certain spoils are due. The party would therefore feel few or no pangs as the accusations of malversation rise and fall. Indeed, evocations of impropriety may, on the contrary, yield a certain satisfaction.
It is therefore, to my mind, unlikely that the PPP will throw open the doors and beckon AFC or APNU inside. It would, in fact, be depriving itself of its principal raison d’etre. Something needs to be said about the “fear.” It, as was noted, is often contrived, sometimes a self-righteous pose, often exaggerated, and even, at times, delusional.
Nothing in the objective history of this country supports the portrayal of any single group as psychologically more prone to violence than another. But there are ways in which cultures in opposition clothe the adversary in negative characteristics. And the Afro-Guyanese culture also has some negative stereotypes of Indians, Amerindians and others. The fact is, also, that as a collective which is poly-cultural writes the scenario of its history, roles are distributed and accepted or rejected. For example, imagining that the Indians sees you as fearful may facilitate threatening behaviour towards them that would be unthinkable in a transaction with a fellow African or a white man. We need to note also that “fear” is often a gloss for deep and intertwined sentiments of ethnic identification that is the motor for community/ethnic voting. Politicians do not go into deeper analysis on the hustings. They relate to their audience through a sort of symbolic language where a single word may be used to evoke a set of images and concepts that generate certain emotions. When therefore the “twenty eight years” were invoked, it was a “rally round the race” call that has begun to be diminished in its mobilisational power as the memories fade. The role of the PPP on its election platform was to have the memories transmutate into myth, stereotype. Hence calls to keep memories fresh. How, now, will the PNC/APNU react to its continued portrayal as the seminal adversary of a certain ethnic group, a certain forward movement?
Let us concede that the portrayal is no longer true to life. The PNC has, we all hope, escaped its type-casting. The party of Brig Granger and Rupert Roopnaraine is unlikely to play the role required of it by the PPP’s scenario with its stereotypes.
From the ascension of Mr Corbin to the leadership, the PNC has increasingly cast itself as an ethical force in opposition to a PPP drowning in the venal immoralities and the indecencies attributed to some of its more public members. It is unlikely that the PNC will be provoked into association with those who may wish to promote violence. By this time, those who listened to Bynoe and Benschop during the last of the tragic violent marches, would have been disabused. If the PNC has learnt something, the question on the table at this time is, “What has the PPP learnt from the last distressing decade; from the election results and the calls everywhere, by everyone including its own supporters, for better governance?” Then, immediately another question, “If the PNC has managed to escape its role, is there hope that the PPP will metamorphose into something grander than ‘protectors’?”
It is without malice that springs to mind the thought that a good ‘clean-up‘ gesture for which Mr Ramotar will gain credit would be throwing overboard, from any porthole in the office of the president, some of the tainted characters tolerated by the last regime. A lot of his decent followers are truly embarrassed by the crude uncleanliness they have come to symbolise. Then he would have to dismantle the infrastructure of relations (commercial, political, intimate) left in place by his predecessor. But (another question) does the deal he made that earned him the candidacy allow him any latitude? He can really become a memorable figure in the history of his country’s politics.
Should Mr Ramotar prove ready for the task of transforming the country and exiting the ridiculous role in which his party has locked itself, he risks not only winning future scheduled elections, but winning the sympathy of many disappointed by recent events. What has occurred so far – the quick swearing in, the naming of the familiar cabinet, the nervous confusion at the events of the marches, the seeming dismissal of calls for inclusionary government – suggests that Mr Ramotar still needs to find his feet.