Winning a majoritarian election does not necessarily make a gov’t substantively better

Dear Editor,

To cut to the chase -in his previous letter (`There is a fundamental difference between what obtained under the PNC and what exists now under the PPP/C’ (SN: 18/04/2014)), Mr. Narindra Persaud claimed that the fundamental difference he referred to is that parliament is today more deliberative and representative. As an example of this he claimed that under the PNC the parliamentary committee system was not institutionalized as it is today. “It was the PNC way or the highway, in so far as the opposition parties were concerned, even though the PNC was a de facto minority government.”

Mr. Persaud did place his argument in the general framework of the PPP government being more deliberative and representative. However, in my view that was secondary to his attempt to delegitimize the opposition’s feisty behaviour in parliament, staunch demand for political linkages, etc. which were all previously utilized by the PPP.

Hence his absurd claim that in opposition the PPP did not support the burning of sugar cane. The implication being that the opposition should pass the present money-laundering legislation and do nothing that will adversely affect the Guyanese economy! With examples, I responded that the mere existence of new parliamentary arrangements does not make the parliament more deliberative and that until the 2011election it was also the PPP way or the highway.

That aside however, Mr. Persaud now explicitly claims that the PPP government is fundamentally different because “the PNC always lacked political and constitutional legitimacy to govern this country having rigged all elections.” (“No comparison between PPP, PNC …” SN: 07/05/2014). What he fails to realise is that, in terms of actual political behaviour, winning a majoritarian election, particularly in our ethnic context, is neither here nor there: it does not necessarily make a government substantively better, desirable or moral.

In my article “Democracy without political virtue.” (SN: 30/04/2014), I provided the following quotation from the eminent political theorist, Samuel P Huntington, which I hope will help to disabuse Mr. Persaud of this false belief.

Elections, open, free and fair, are the essence of democracy, the inescapable sine qua non. Governments produced by elections may be inefficient, corrupt, shortsighted, irresponsible, dominated by special interests, and incapable of adopting policies demanded by the public good. These qualities make such governments undesirable but they do not make them undemocratic.” Democracy is one public virtue, others are: “effective citizen control over policies, responsible government, honesty and openness in politics, informed and rational deliberation, equal participation and power.”

So Mr. Persaud, majority rule, or democracy if you wish, does not per se mean that the PPP is not “inefficient, corrupt, shortsighted, irresponsible, dominated by special interests, and incapable of adopting policies demanded by the public good.” Indeed, there is a growing body of people accusing it of being all of this and even more. Keeping in mind that the government is now a minority, to dissuade such people and to win for the PPP/C an acceptable level of legitimacy, you will have to provide them with positive experiences, not theory and certainly not falsely construed theories.

Secondly, Mr. Persaud claims that the PNC has been an ideological dilettante because it has been changing its political partners since 1964 when it joined forces with the right-wing United Force. His PPP is however a working class party that “has never changed course since its formation as a political party sixty four years ago”!

What Mr. Persaud has not told us is why working with other groups has meant that the PNC has of necessity made unacceptable ideological shifts from its course. After all, one reason for establishing the Civic was to indicate that the PPP was not antagonistic to capitalism, and according to Mr. Persaud this did not change the PPP from its course.

Yet there is something disturbingly, ideologically innocent and quaint about Mr. Persaud seeing nothing wrong, in the age of transience, in boasting that his party has not changed course in sixty years and this becomes even more alarming when one digests the course upon which it is set!

Mr. Persaud claims that the door of the PPP is open for all of us to join and went straight to the Communist Manifesto (1848 – II. Proletarians and Communists -the final quote completes his paraphrase from the same source) to indicate our course and future. “This is why as a political party it has in its ranks the most politically and ideologically advanced contingent of the Guyanese people.” “… that section which pushes forward all others; …theoretically, they have over the great mass of the proletariat the advantage of clearly understanding the line of march, the conditions, and the ultimate general results of the proletarian movement.”

Heaven help us!

Yours faithfully,
Henry B Jeffrey