This election is turning out to be the most divisive since 1992 in terms of racial mobilization. Apan jaat and “Black fuh Black” go back a long time. It took a hiatus for the unified PPP of 1953, but came back into full swing in 1961. Since 1997 it was always implied or subtle, but not explicit as I have seen during this campaign. For example, the votes Mr Hamilton Green received in the local election of 1994 evaporated overnight after Mr Hoyte announced at a 1997 rally in South Ruimveldt that Green’s GGG received $7 million campaign financing from PPP. Before that rally Green was pulling some large crowds in Georgetown. For the 2001 election, Mrs Jagan announced to her largely East Indian crowd at the Kitty rally: “don’t split the votes.”
These examples of ethnic mobilization are mild compared with what we heard leading up to the 2011 election and are witnessing this election following the annual Babu Jaan cuss down. Why would a column focusing on economic and financial issues be concerned with ethno-political mobilization? A running theme of this series is pro-ethnic mobilization results in poor allocation of economic resources and wastage of diverse human resources, hence the main reason for Guyana’s underdevelopment since 1966. It also retards the disciplining mechanisms of free and fair elections. There is no incentive for the PPP to chance course once it knows it has a reliable ethnic vote bank. The PPP has already signalled it will be business as usual when it announced Mr Jagdeo will be responsible for all aspects of economic planning (including project choice and distribution) should it win the election. We have noted in previous essays that the strategy of Mr Jagdeo was to capture his political party and through the list system capture the government apparatus for distribution of patronage to chosen friends and families.
The Constitution essentially incentivises and institutionalizes racial mobilization and intra-group patronage that are preventing the economy from realizing its true potential. The PPP was very concerned that ROAR would take some of its votes in 2001. It lobbied hard for a pre-election alliance to be placed as part of the tinkered 1980 Burnham Constitution. They spread the rumour that ROAR was going to form a post-election alliance with PNC to remove the PPP. The implied message here is ROAR was working with the Afro-Guyanese party to displace the Indo-Guyanese PPP. That for the PPP to stay in government, East Indians must vote for their ethnic leaders instead of focusing on matters like security and quality of life. Therefore, by forcing an alliance before the election, they could say we told you so at the bottom house meetings.
Bottom house rumourmongering is not even needed anymore as Jagdeo is now explicit in his pro-ethnic approach. A few months before the November 2011 election, senior leaders of the PPP, including the sitting President, told their largely East Indian crowd at Babu Jaan that if the opposition wins they will share out guns to their supporters. This message was intended to stoke the fears of rural East Indians and of course their
strategic vote. I always thought it was an insult to the intelligence of East Indians. This belittles their intellect, particularly since the Home Affairs Minister, accountable for police work, was one of the speakers. Why no one from opposition was ever charged or prosecuted? No wonder the police lacks credibility and trust among the population.
The strategy of race-baiting or stoking the ethnic strategic votes took a new level last month at Babu Jaan. This was perhaps the most explicit example of race-baiting since 1992. The former President must know of the impact the alleged statement opposition activists make would have in Berbice. Mr Jagdeo alleged that opposition activists were mobilizing their black supporters by encouraging them to “throw out the coolie people.” Senior members of the PPP were not too bothered that Mr David Granger would never sanction crass racial mobilization of this nature. Therefore, what we have here is the weight of words of a former President versus alleged words of low level opposition activists. The whole strategy was intended to remind rural East Indians that PPP is their party and that they must vote against the Afro-Guyanese.
Outside of Hoyte’s “kith and kin” call, I have not seen any senior Afro-Guyanese leader of the PNC go this explicit in race-baiting. The words of low level party activists don’t determine policy at the leadership and national level. Mr Jagdeo would know this given how he used Show-of-Hands and his party’s Democratic Centralism to capture the political party and government systems. Guyana Times – itself created through a system of government patronage – has also assumed an explicit line of race-baiting by running daily headlines saying Mr Nagamootoo is selling the East Indian votes; that Indian votes are not for sale; that they belong solely with the PPP.
Sadly Mr Mark Benschop is also forced to swim against the attempts by some on the other side trying to stoke the ethnic strategic votes. Mr Benschop has every right to run as an independent. This time it is not the senior leadership of PPP who fuels the racial strategic votes, but the friends of Benschop with access to the media. Their strategy is very similar to the one Mr Hoyte unleashed against Hammie Green in 1997. Democracy as we would like it to work might not be applicable to Guyana.