The Cummingsburg Accord struck on Saturday by A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) and the Alliance For Change (AFC) to contest the May 11 general elections on a joint slate will go down – win or lose – as the most significant coalition in opposition politics since independence, defying cynics who thought that it was impossible.
Its only compare, and in completely different circumstances, would be the short-lived 1964 post-election coalition between Burnham’s PNC and D’Aguiar’s UF. Aside from that alliance, the Patriotic Coalition for Democracy came close to crafting a deal for the 1992 general elections only for it to be rent asunder by the power politics among unequal partners.
As a potential game changer in the deadening politics that has stultified the country since 2011, the formation of the alliance is to be welcomed as a means of elevating the political culture of the country. The performance of the coalition at the elections will provide a clear insight into two things. First, whether a coalition comprised of the main representative of the Afro-Guyanese community allied with a third force can break ethnic solidarity and recreate the multi-racial spirit of 1953. Second, the result will pass judgement on whether the Indo-Guyanese segment of the population still sees the PNC as unreconstructed and as the bogeyman that the PPP/C continues to present it as.
There is no doubt that this alliance with APNU’s David Granger as the presidential candidate and the AFC’s Vice-Chairman Moses Nagamootoo as the prime ministerial candidate is the most formidable threat that the PPP/C faces to its hold on power particularly since it lost its parliamentary majority at the 2011 elections. It is now left to be seen how the PPP/C reacts to this monumental development. Since the passing of the Jagans, the ruling coalition is but a shadow of its former disciplined and well-organised movement. It has been ravaged by 10 years of the Jagdeo presidency which ruthlessly overrode it while governing for its cronies, mothballing checks and balances institutions, undermining the rule of law and creating conditions for entrenched corruption. The PPP/C has not recovered from this. All the while, President Jagdeo fortified himself as evidenced by the obscene benefits package he forced through Parliament for himself. He bequeathed an economy largely unchanged from the one he met and with several major disasters unresolved particularly the Skeldon sugar factory and the dire state of the industry.
In 2011, President Ramotar was gifted with an opportunity to veer away from this catastrophic quality of governance. He failed to do this. It was as if he was channelling the same disastrous policies of the Jagdeo government. Mr Ramotar’s performance as President was lacklustre and uninspiring. There was no transformational programme and he made no attempt to constructively engage the opposition in the quest for national reconciliation. One can only assume that he is the PPP/C’s candidate again by default. Even now at this late stage, President Ramotar has a chance to make amends by separating himself from the Jagdeo years and making this clear to the electorate. Will he do this?
Political analysts will no doubt pick through Saturday’s accord to assess the gains by the two opposition groups and whether those gains can translate into an overall majority for the coalition. By nailing down the presidential position, APNU’s main constituent, the PNC, now has the best opportunity in 23 years to return to the presidency but as part of a coalition in which, if it wins, the AFC will significantly increase its parliamentary seats from seven to 12 (what will it be if the coalition loses?) or 18.4%, not bad for a 10-year-old party. The AFC would also be able to gain greater prestige from an enhanced prime ministerial position which would see the PM chairing cabinet and having responsibility for Home Affairs. The AFC will significantly also hold 40 percent of the Cabinet positions.
With less than three months to go, the PPP/C is still to show its hand. It has not named its prime ministerial candidate neither has it presented to the public any additions to its alliance or new faces for its campaign. Ranged against the opposition coalition and likely additions to it, the pressure is now on the ruling party to try to create interest and enthusiasm around its campaign.
As former Auditor General Mr Anand Goolsarran urged in a statement on Friday, citizens must vote at the upcoming elections on the basis of programmes, rather than on sentiments.
“This scourge of electing public officials on the basis of ethnic considerations has devastated this country for over half a century. That devastation has placed us second lowest in the Caribbean economically and in several other respects, despite the vastness of our natural resources”, Mr Goolsarran noted.
An election on the basis of merit and programmes requires all of the contenders to lay out in great detail their views on areas as diverse as constitutional reform, national security, education, job creation, economic diversification, flood control, LGBT rights, social security, domestic violence, alcohol abuse and the future of the sugar industry among many others. In the coming days the public would expect both of the major contenders and others to begin laying out their manifestoes/programmes. Their policies must be presented to the public in a manner that allows it to understand and dissect.
The ensuing campaign must be enlightened and free of any appeals or declarations that create racial discord. Forty-nine years after independence, May 11th offers another opportunity to lay the groundwork for national unity. This opportunity must be seized by all.