It is often said that in politics perception is reality. Almost no one in the Guyanese nation and in the wider world would deny that both PPP and PNC are perceived as ethnic parties. So this matter is neither a debatable nor a deniable one.
Both parties are keenly aware of the way their parties are perceived. Are they troubled about it? Of course they are. That’s why they go to such lengths to have their No 2 position (prime minister) filled by someone of a different ethnicity from their No 1 (president). But their No1 position will always be filled by someone from the same ethnicity with which their party is identified.
This historic and entrenched practice of ethnic politics is what has led to a very flawed democracy. In fact one can reasonably argue that it is not a democracy at all. In theory and practice if one ethnic group accounts for the majority or plurality of the electorate, and every last man votes race, then that ethnic party will always win. And, this has been the reality of Guyana; the Indo-ethnic PPP has won every election from 1992 to 2006, thanks to ethnic voting and the numerical majority of Indians.
What is in store for the future? With the nation stuck with a highly unusual constitution that allows a party to take power by winning the plurality instead of a clear 51 per cent majority, this means the PPP could hold on to power for the foreseeable future. It doesn’t take a lot of imagination to recognize that such developments can potentially lead to ethnic tensions.
The most urgent compelling national issue in this nation is to pressure both ethnic parties to take steps that will produce a change in the way their parties are perceived. If both the PPP and PNC do this it will be enough to change the dynamic of our politics. A changed consciousness by both Indians and Africans inspired and encouraged by a new non-racial philosophy of both the PPP and PNC will go a far way to solving many of our national problems, and will move the country along a path to becoming a genuine non-racial democracy.
There are a lot of opinion writers and bloggers in the letters columns who write in support of ethnic politics. Mr Bisram’s letter in SN of November 28 calling on the PPP to reconcile with Indian stalwarts, Moses Nagamootoo and Ralph Ramkarran is one such letter. One does not have to be a cynic to recognize that the main object of Mr Bisram’s letter is to unite the Indian bloc of voters and have them vote for an ethnic party. This is precisely the kind of campaign politics the nation needs to avoid if it aspires to develop economically and socially through a genuine non-racial democracy.
I also wish to raise the matter of Mr Sam Hinds, an African-Guyanese who has served in the position of Prime Minister for the last 21 years, and has done so with distinction and respectability. Why does the PPP bypass this man every time it needs a presidential candidate? It did so in 1999 when President Janet Jagan retired. If an African-Guyanese cannot be considered suitable to succeed to the presidency, then he shouldn’t be suitable to serve as Prime Minister either.
Is there an unwritten law that the party can only be headed by an Indian? Of course I am cognizant of the ‘fix’ and the excuses advanced by the PPP to justify their act. Mr Hinds belongs to the Civic branch, they say, and therefore he is not entitled to the full rights and privileges of members of the party. Is it not obvious to all Guyanese and to the world that this so-called construct of Civic is a fraud set up for window-dressing purposes?
In 2011, the two-term presidency of Jagdeo came to an end. And for the second time it determined that only an Indian can be eligible for the presidency. It reached out and groomed Mr Ramotar. Now the nation is approaching another election cycle, and for the third time, again Prime Minister Sam Hinds’ name cannot even be placed in the pool of suitable presidential candidates.
On a New York radio station just before the 1997 elections, PM Sam Hinds was asked about his interest in “running” for the presidency. Mr Hinds said he would be happy to be considered for the position. (In the current party set-up, you do not run, you have to be selected and voted on by 36 members.) Let it be said that Mr Hinds is on record as having expressed an interest in the position of president, and save and except for the so-called ‘fix,’ and the institutional ethnic bias of the party, he will not ever be considered for the presidency, no matter how long and loyally and faithfully he serves the party as prime minister.
This nation needs to have a debate on the larger question of whether it can ever make progress if both the PPP and PNC cannot take the first step to evolve into genuine non-racial parties.