Whatever positives are derived from the current parliamentary configuration over the remainder of the current term could depend in large measure on the pivotal role of the Alliance For Change as a headliner and not a mere footnote in ongoing political deliberations.
In retrospect, many did not give the AFC a ghost of a chance to survive after it was launched in 2005, citing previous third force movements and parties that tried and failed to break the race-based political stranglehold of the PPP and PNC. But what previous third force movements and parties apparently did not have in their favour was the combination of the right circumstances and the right timing.
For example, before the AFC, the Walter Rodney-led WPA probably was the only party that showed signs of being a third force, especially since Rodney saw the PPP and PNC as race-based parties incapable of uniting the two major races. But because he was against exploiting race for partisan political gain, he and the WPA were sandwiched between a rock and a hard place: Forbes Burnham’s PNC despised him and Cheddi Jagan‘s PPP was uncomfortable with him.
Burnham knew many Guyanese were angry and frustrated during his era, and realized Rodney’s message was resonating much more quickly with the intellectual and pseudo-intellectual classes across racial boundaries, and so he set out to stop it from gaining enough traction among the ordinary masses.
Jagan, on the other hand, recognized the revolutionary fire in Rodney’s eyes and voice, but with Rodney choosing not to align with the PPP, he saw Rodney as a threat to the PPP and not just the PNC. Ironically, although Jagan had a numerically greater support base than Burnham and Rodney, Jagan still could not harness the growing frustration and anger among his own supporters let alone across party lines, to lead the fight for change.
And even when his party aligned with the Patriotic Coalition for Democracy (PCD), it wanted to be seen as the major partner with the biggest say. So, all attempts at a third force movement proved futile, because the PNC and PPP saw to it.
But that was until the AFC was launched in 2005 and went on to capture five parliamentary seats in the following year’s elections. Now, as we look back on the 2011 elections, we are awed by the indefatigable AFC, which survived political machinations at isolation during the previous six years and went on to capture seven parliamentary seats, thus securing itself a place at the table of negotiations on our nation’s affairs.
The birth of the AFC can arguably be linked to the death of the PPP’s Cheddi Jagan in March 1997 and the PNC’s Desmond Hoyte in December 2002.
But it was Jagan’s death that fortuitously opened the door for the worst of the PPP to come out, ushering in the era of ‘Jagdeoism’ where state corruption, lawlessness, vindictiveness and heavy-handed rule, adversely impacted on the nation’s psyche, worse than anything in the Burnham era.
As it became clearer that the PPP was no longer the Cheddi Jagan party, a crack appeared in the party’s façade as stalwarts like Messrs Khemraj Ramjattan and Moses Nagamootoo began getting ostracized. Simultaneously, traditional supporters of the PPP joined non-supporters in reviling and rejecting the PPP.
The PPP’s race-based politics in the ‘us versus them’ construct of fear and insecurity was no longer working, and to end this divisive and destructive type of politics as we came to know it, Mr Ramjattan joined with Mr Raphael Trotman (who resigned in frustration from the PNCR) and the late Ms Sheila Holder (formerly of the WPA) to launch the AFC.
But this was what kept the PPP and PNC machineries alive for decades and they were not going to let the AFC dismantle these without a fight. Nevertheless, despite the political machinations of both Messrs Jagdeo and Corbin to isolate the AFC from 2006 to 2011, the AFC survived with its five parliamentary seats intact. Then thanks to Mr Nagamootoo, who joined his old PPP comrade, Mr Ramjattan, late last year, the AFC was able to capture the support of those who were frustrated and angry at the Jagdeo-Ramotar PPP and sympathized with Mr Nagamootoo, thus allowing the AFC to pick up two more parliamentary seats.
Indeed, one can now safely argue that the AFC’s newfound unique position as the deal-maker or deal-breaker in Parliament was the result of a combination of the right circumstances and the right timing. Today, while the PPP and PNC/APNU still dominate Parliament, this body will cease being a rubber stamp of the party in power and finally get to fulfil the true meaning of its moniker as the highest decision-making forum in the land, thanks to the AFC.
Now, this monumental achievement does not mean the AFC has arrived. It means the AFC has moved up a notch and established itself as a viable contender, but it also has its work cut out over the next five years to strike a delicate balance between the PPP and APNU, sometimes relying on that combination of circumstances and timing.
And while doing so, it has to still retain its identity and emerge as a party of ideas instead of a party of race. It has to become what the PPP and PNC failed to become after 1992: a party of the people, for the people and by the people.
Finally, to advocates of shared governance: this current parliamentary configuration may be the best opportunity to determine whether the concept can work in Guyana. Though not a shared governance fan, I always felt that it will need a referee to ensure the PPP and PNC play by the rules, and while the AFC has to delicately balance its act between maintaining its identity and working with either or both the PPP and APNU, it may also find itself refereeing the two parties.