The opposition alliance has now evolved into a movement that will break the “Berlin Wall of ethnic preference,” according to APNU+AFC prime ministerial candidate Moses Nagamootoo, who says Guyanese, particularly young people, are bringing real issues to the fore.
According to Nagamootoo, on election day Guyanese are not going to be looking at who is Black or Indian; rather, they will be coming together to remove a regime entrenched in corruption, mismanagement, nepotism and cronyism. Instead of focusing on the “big bad PNC,” he said, the young people would see the hardships they have experienced and Guyanese in general would have crime, unemployment and low wages in mind when they look at their ballot papers and vote for change.
“Young people going back 35 years ago, 30 years ago are not going to be looking at what divided us but they are looking at what could possibly bring us together,” Nagamootoo, a former member of the ruling PPP/C for many years, told the Stabroek News in an interview on Thursday.
The young, he said, want to fight for jobs and are interested in fighting their situation of hopelessness and for a quality education. This translates into a whole new set of issues on the table except for those still trapped in the past, where people simply fought for ethnic security, he added. Women, he said, are also fighting for social security and better health services, and are fighting against underpayment, unemployment and gender issues.
“They are bringing to the fore issues and not race; issues and not ethnicity; and so I believe that this movement has the potential of smashing that Berlin wall of ethnic preferences and ethnic polarisation,” he said.
He admitted that there were concerns by persons who preferred the AFC to contest the elections separately, but he said that was not an option because the PPP would have gone back into government with less than 50% of the votes.
“You would have had in a three-way election an absurdity, and you would have had more of the same gridlock, deadlock, constitutional crises and you would have social upheaval…” Nagamootoo said, stating that it was the job of the AFC to join the coalition to avoid a political catastrophe.
According to him, the concept of national unity is now a movement and is no longer simply giving people the hope and expectation of change, but giving something the country has wanted since 1955 when the PPP split into Burnham and Jagan factions. He said people went in the direction of race voting because they saw in the respective parties – PPP and PNC – some protection on the basis of ethnicity, of being together and saying “is we own.”
“I think it is the only viable option right now, and it is a choice that cannot be exercised lightly because we have had many governments before, many elections before, but this is one with a difference; this election would deliver something that has never been delivered in any previous election, which is unity,” Nagamootoo said.
Speaking of the past, he described it as “…more of an ethnic mobilisation rather than ethnic polarisation,” while positing that Guyanese have learnt to cooperate more along inter-ethnic lines than there have been conflicts along ethnic lines. There was never an apartheid-type division between the two major race groupings, he said, but rather a political choice based on ethnic mobilistion.
Over the years there have been attempts to break the ethnic cycle and as examples Nagamootoo cited the late Dr Walter Rodney and the PPP/C’s decision to name Samuel Hinds as Dr Cheddi Jagan’s running mate, which was seen as an attempt to bring the sugar and bauxite workers together.
People, Nagamootoo said, are now crying out for survival, and this would dictate that the choice they make on election day would clearly be a choice in favour of the coalition.
The prime ministerial candidate accepts that racial voting has been with Guyana for as long as there were two separate parties making appeals to ethnic groupings, but said it predated the 1950s when there were ethnic oriented associations even though these did not fructify into political parties.
‘Life of its own’
What has started off as an alliance has now assumed a life of its own and has become a “political movement that seems to have a momentum of its own, young people are driving this.” He strongly believes that 65% of the voting population are now young people, and that the last allegation of election rigging was made in 1985 and since then there has been a system to ensure free and fair elections.
He does not agree that he supported race-based voting by being with the PPP for all those years, as he left the PPP, he said, because he rejected race-based politics. He added that it was difficult for him, in a stratified, authoritarian environment, to even say he was Christian, in a party where atheism and Marxism-Leninism was a predominant political culture.
Breaking out of the enclave of ethnocentric politics after Dr Jagan died was the only option even as he battled with isolation because he spoke of inclusive government while in the party.
Nagamootoo now has a booklet of a speech he made to the leadership of the party in 1997, when Janet Jagan was elected president and the results were being protested on the streets. He said that in the speech he identified the way forward as not being through conflict and confrontation, but rather through a political union which could bring all together to create a national democratic state in which everything except the presidency was up for negotiations.
“I was inviting my party to bring the PNC into government that would be called a national unity government,” he said, adding that in that speech he also named David Granger and Kenneth King, among others, as those who were moderates favouring some sort of dialogue and constitutional engineering, and who could create a new shift to establish a national democracy.
“I resigned from the PPP; the PPP didn’t throw me out. I resigned because I saw inside after Jagan died that there were fraudulent processes to select people for leadership positions. There were plots and an actual conspiracy to remove me from the leadership of the party,” he said.
And this, he said, had nothing to do with him being ambitious but because he wanted unity, and when he walked away from the party it was because he had exhausted all efforts in that “moribund party to build national unity and to build a new Guyana.” He walked from the party to embrace something that is more challenging but more important – something that is new.
The AFC, when he joined it, had as its ideology, democracy, he said, which means subscribing to the rule of law. This would not allow incidents such as Courtney Crum-Ewing being shot in the back of his head while he exercised his democratic rights, or the President allowing Finance Minister Dr Ashni Singh to spend billions without the approval of the Parliament.
“That’s not the rule of law, that’s the rule of executive lawlessness,” he said, naming contracts being handed out to friends of the government and not through a competitive bidding system that would be required if a Public Procurement Commission (PPC) were in place.
Further, he argued that there can be no rule of law when for 17 years local government elections have not been held, when there is interference by the President in the way the Parliament is run and the interference by the executive by the way the judiciary is run.
Of the opposition alliance, he said, “We are nationalists, we believe in our nation, we believe in an even playing field for all, investors must be free in the open marketplace for contracts, for resources, for land, for forestry. He made it clear that no right exists to give away the country’s radio spectrum to friends and cronies.
Asked if he believes in an economy with the private sector leading the way, Nagamootoo responded that the state has to play a regulatory role in the economy and ensure that there are laws, and fair practices and procedures in place. He said there must be an enabling environment and legal framework. He pointed out that it is for the politicians – the government and the opposition – to craft the investment code, the incentive regime which should be characterised by fairness, transparency and openness.
‘Never said it’
Nagamootoo has come under heavy criticism for reportedly saying that he would deliver 11% of Indian votes to the coalition, but he denied making such a statement. According to Nagamootoo, he had said that when APNU came to the negotiating table they referred to 40% of the voting population – based on the history of the voting patterns – and he said all that is needed is 11% as they need 51% to cross the line.
“I have never described it in race [terms] because we never received 11% of Indian votes; we receive support from all sections of the Guyanese people. It is the racists who are the ideologues of the PPP…who have decided to put an ethnic characterisation to the percentage, and I condemn them for that because that was very cheap and very unprincipled and unacceptable,” Nagamootoo said.
At the time he was speaking to the residents of Cow Dam in New Amsterdam, and Nagamootoo said he has the tape to prove that he had never said the AFC would deliver 11% of Indian votes.
And questioned about his “I am not Indian” comment, made while speaking to supporters in New York, Nagamootoo maintained that he is Guyanese first and that comes before race.
“I am a Guyanese and that is the only clarity that I could give to the fact that I have led them to focus the camera and the light on me, and I love being seen as a Guyanese… I wanted them to see who I am; the real Moses Nagamootoo is stepping forward as a Guyanese, I defy them to step forward [as] anything else other than a Guyanese,” he said.