On the one hand, the PPP attracted several folks with good multi-ethnic credentials. These include Mr. Peter Ramsaroop, Mr. Clinton Urling and Ms. Elisabeth Harper, the Prime Ministerial candidate. It doesn’t matter whether you agree or disagree with their politics, folks like Urling and Ramsaroop could appeal to a fraction of young professionals who are embarking on a career or might have just become a property owner. In an ethnically divided electorate, every small fraction counts. It is therefore not wise to curse them down on Facebook or elsewhere. Urling and Ramsaroop could also encourage some mixed voters to vote for the PPP or stay with the PPP. About 20% of the population self-identifies as mixed. To put this into context, Amerindians make up approximately 10% of the population.
On the other hand, the PPP is pursuing the most explicitly race-based election campaign since 1992. This strategy involves stoking the fears of East Indians by reminding them of perceived wrongs committed by the African dominated PNC. Mr. Jagdeo is charged with the strategy of terrifying East Indians into submission. Proxy groups associated with Guyana Times and Guyana Chronicle are also responsible for promoting the strategy of fear and insecurity. Jagdeo’s comments of African army officers kicking down the doors of PPP supporters (mainly Indians attended Babu Jaan) is the latest in a series of explicit attempts of scaring Indo-Guyanese. Comments on that theme were made several times since 2011 at Babu Jaan. Therefore, the PPP wants to suck cane and blow whistle. The party wants its mixed voters and retain the small percentage of Afro-Guyanese voters, while pursuing a strategy of scaring Indians by indirectly stereotyping others groups; and also projecting East Indians as always the victims.
This column and other commentators have noted that the contributions of the PNC are much more nuanced. There was the Burnham PNC and the Hoyte PNC – what we labelled PNC part 1 and part 2, respectively. The Hoyte PNC reversed numerous policies of the PNC part 1. It set the stage for debt relief and economic growth of about 7% in 1991 and 1992. It had secured several lines of credit that the Jagan PPP utilized. The PNC devalued the exchange rate (a necessity to realign the street rate and the official rate), thus saving Dr. Jagan from having to take the blame for that policy. The Hoyte regime came down very hard on criminals and bandits. Two of the perceived instigators of anti-Indian crimes, who were jailed by the Hoyte regime, were subsequently released by PPP. The Burnham PNC offered Hindus two public holidays, which is more than Trinidad has. Today the PPP has one (possibly 1.5) practising Hindu in its cabinet of twenty. Hindus make up about 25% of the Guyanese population. This number is down from about 37% in 1992.
What is striking is the PPP has never bothered to establish an Inquiry into the kick-down-the-door banditry, yet its leaders want to milk those events for political ends. The party has also stayed away from launching an Inquiry into the brutal crimes that started around 1999 and ended around 2006. What is there to hide? The decent thing to do is to get to the bottom of these crimes; to figure out the underlying causes so that the society can understand how to prevent them in the future, instead of milking the events at election time.
Therefore, can the PPP overturn an age old wisdom which says it is not possible to suck cane and blow whistle? We will get the answer after May 11. Suffice to say, the outcome will depend ultimately on two factors. Firstly, it depends upon what percentage of East Indians is willing to have their intelligence insulted in the crassest manner. It must dawn upon some East Indians that the African dominated army has been professional throughout the PPP administration. The army served the democratically elected government faithfully. Moreover, the Jagdeo administration refused legal proposals to reform the police force. Since the government has refused to release the demographic composition of the population, we have to use the 2014 LAPOP survey which suggests that the Indian population is just about 40%, down from the 48% of 1992. Secondly, it depends on whether enough Afro-Guyanese and Mixed supporters of the PPP will be turned off by the strategy. Some of these folks might interpret the scare Indian strategy as stereotyping an entire group of people.
Assuming the voters list approximates the overall population, and there is good reason to believe it does, if the PPP loses 5 percentage points of East Indians to the opposition it has a deficit of 16 percentage points it needs for capturing the 51% majority. This depends on how many African and Mixed voters it can keep, while holding on to the Amerindian voters. The strategy of trying to suck cane and blow whistle is risky. Was it a deliberate choice or no one has the guts to stand up to Mr. Jagdeo?
I have updated the data presented in my March 11 essay: “The emerging independent class of voters.” The table shows the 2014 LAPOP data, whereby potential voters were asked to identify with a political party depending on ethnicity. Previously, I reported the percentages for the 2006 and 2009 surveys. In 2014, 7.1% of Afro-Guyanese associates with PPP, while 1.2% of East Indians associates with PNC. However, 15.3% of East Indians said they associate with AFC. The PPP could possibly get 22% of the mixed voters, while the coalition gets potentially 73%. The deficit of 16 percentage points I mentioned above is looking like a very deep hole to fill. Alternatively, will the wallet trump the cause of societal cohesiveness, allowing the PPP to do what no one has done: suck cane and blow whistle, all while signalling it will be the usual oligarchic expropriation of the people’s patrimony (see Mr. Ramkarran’s brilliant column on the latest example of oligarchic expropriation “Axe the Dax” SN May, 3).