Democratic turnover is here, can it last?

Given the betrayal of 1992, I would like to think that the May 11 General Election is the most momentous election since 1953. In this election a most highly respected African Guyanese leader, President David Granger, from the PNC was able to win a free and fair election by assembling a broad multi-ethnic coalition that includes the substantial third party, Alliance for Change. President Granger walked on pins and needles most of the time. Moreover, he won the election in a pre-election alliance, knowing that it was going to be a very risky endeavour.

It is true that voting in the May 11 General Election was very polarized along the two dominant ethnic groups. However, there is evidence that a group of independent voters also crossed the divide and voted for the APNU-AFC alliance. Take for example the Whim Nursery polling station; PPP/C received 111 votes while APNU-AFC received 44 votes (28.4% for coalition). For Port Mourant Community Centre polling station, PPP/C received 153 votes while AFC-APNU 20 votes (11.6% for coalition). At Port Mourant Secondary, PPP/C received 109 votes while APNU-AFC received 74 votes (40.4% for coalition). Now, these are remarkable percentages coming from a sample of majority East Indian villages.

20150311development watchMost people thought that in a pre-election alliance East Indians would never vote for an African Guyanese leader from PNC. The initial push back was visceral. Nevertheless, it made probabilistic sense when one considers the expected political payoff for the Alliance for Change if it ran separately. The constitution allowed the PPP to govern as it pleases and there is nothing AFC would have been able to do with 7 or 8 seats. Even if the PPP won the majority with 45%, Mr. Jagdeo was going to make sure the PPP govern in the most unenlightened manner. Hence, the only disciplining mechanism remaining was a pre-election alliance with Mr. Nagamootoo as the Prime Ministerial candidate. The pre-election alliance allowed for the PPP to come out blazing with a strategy of fear-mongering. However, it is not possible to insult the intelligence of all the East Indians all the time.

For democratic turnover to become fortified and natural in the post-2011 democracy, it has to get significant help from constitutional overhaul. At minimum, such an overhaul must enshrine a high degree of randomness regarding the candidate’s ability to win an election. This randomness, in my opinion, is the purest form and morally right kind of power sharing. Power sharing which entrenches politicians because of their ethnicity is not the way to go. However, an African Guyanese leader from the PNC must have an equal chance or probability of winning the election compared with an East Indian leader from the PPP. That is the purest form of power sharing. It is this equal chance which allows for regular democratic turnover and for minimizing ethnic insecurities.

One change that can promote randomness – while neutering the opportunity for pre-election ethnic mobilization – is to reform the constitution to allow for post-election alliances instead of the present pre-election alliance. The dominant or incumbent political party will not know the direction in which the small independent party will lean after the election; hence, it cannot go to its masses and stir up old animosities. This allows the smaller party to go about its campaigning without having to worry about being accused of colluding with one ethnicity against another. The strategy of labelling one leader as a traitor will be made less effective in post-election alliance.

That the PPP received just under 50% of the votes while APNU-AFC took some East Indian votes shows that the party is getting Amerindian and mixed voters. The previous Development Watch column provided survey data from LAPOP supporting this contention. Anecdotal evidence suggests that some mixed business folks prefer the PPP because ‘money flows.’ The wallet matters. It will be interesting to see how APNU-AFC goes about in the next six months dealing with matters of the wallet and chequing account. Any attempt at unreasonable witch hunting will see the flight of investible capital, and also most importantly human capital.

Future democratic turnover depends on whether the PPP can reinvent itself in opposition. There is no iconic Dr. Cheddi Jagan to keep the troops together. Mr. Jagdeo runs things according to Machiavelli and by paying handsomely for loyalty. The party’s funding gravy train through the government is now gone. Machiavellian ways will not work when the money for buying loyalty has evaporated. Mr. Jagdeo will now find that all the souptunists (my word for opportunist) are gone. The PPP will have to jettison Democratic Centralism if it wants to bring its management practices into the twenty-first century.

The party must renew internal democracy by allowing its members to vote directly for their leaders in the Executive Committee and Central Committee. Mr. Jagdeo must back off and concentrate on his business interests. Running a business to make legal profit is a noble deed. The old timers must give way to bright young Western trained leaders. There are already a few young Western trained individuals inside the PPP, but they were never given substantial leadership opportunities. Their modesty was overwhelmed by the ignorance and arrogance of those who bought their degrees. These things might be too much to ask of the present PPP leadership. Therefore, a reconfiguration of the opposition might have to occur.

Future democratic turnover is also a function of how well APNU+AFC will govern. The country has now a fortuitous coming together of two wise men in President Granger and Prime Minister Nagamootoo. They are fairly elderly statesmen. They no longer have careers to build, but giant legacies to preserve and grow. The natural and man-made constraints will make governing in a country that exports 86% of its skilled and university graduates very hard. The next column will discuss the main constraints good governance will face.

Comments: tkhemraj@ncf.edu

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