Although I remain skeptical about the coalition strategy, I do welcome the compact between the two groups as a reflection of a hitherto elusive political maturity on the part of the leaderships of the APNU and the AFC. The leaderships of the APNU and the AFC should be commended for this brave step, in particular the AFC for conceding the top spot. It clearly took a lot of give and take to arrive at the pact. From the attempt of the PCD in the run- up to the 1992 elections to the formation of the APNU prior to the 2011 election, the formation of a broad anti-incumbent pact had proved elusive. The breakthrough this time around seems to have been driven by a combination of intense pressure from the followers of the opposition parties, some degree of enlightened leadership, the absolute inflexibility of the current PPP and the prospect of its consequent vulnerability within its traditional constituency.
In our ethnic circumstances, the pact represents the fairest allocation of leadership responsibility that could be arrived at. The AFC has been allotted more than its electoral strength from the last election. This would offset the fact that it did not get the symbolic leader slot which it went into the negotiations thinking was crucial to both the success of the coalition and its own ability to convince its mainly Indian Guyanese supporters of its correctness. The APNU, on the other hand, got the top leadership spot, which some of us felt is critical for mobilizing a large turn out to the polls by the African Guyanese electorate.
Now it is time to sell the idea to the two ethnic communities. From my rough calculations the coalition would have to garner approximately 40,000-60,000 more votes than it got at the last election in order to win a plurality this time around. This is assuming that the PPP’s share of the votes remains the same or declines. I think the bulk of the coalition’s additional votes would have to come from the African Guyanese community, which means getting more voters to the poll. This is a challenge, but with Granger at the helm and a healing of the leadership wounds in PNC-APNU leadership, it is doable.
The big challenge for the coalition would be to convince the Indian Guyanese supporters of the AFC and another 10,000 disaffected PPP voters. This would have to be done in the face of an unprecedented PPP race-baiting campaign. The Granger-led coalition ironically robs the PPP of a toe-to-toe slug out with an erstwhile comrade, which it relished. Nevertheless, the coalition, in particular the AFC component, would still be up against the powerful message of “the traitor sleeping with the historical enemy.”
In the final analysis the coalition is both a breakthrough and a gamble. A breakthrough because it puts before the electorate a clear choice between the discredited PPP and a united opposition; something we have never had. The symbolism of joint-ness is powerful in circumstances where ethnic communities feel a common sense of victimhood. The usual stubborn ethnic barriers tend to be relaxed. But do both ethnic communities feel the same sense of victimhood and abuse by the PPP? This is where the coalition becomes a gamble.
We are not sure whether a large enough portion of the Indian Guyanese electorate feel sufficiently abused and victimized to lead them to cast their votes for a coalition led by an African Guyanese leader who comes from the PNC. If they do, then a new history would be made. If they do not, then, at worst, the PPP could well be returned as a majority party and at best retains the plurality. It is not a foregone conclusion.
Finally, the coalition may be guided by the theory that African Guyanese are so battered by the PPP they would be automatically fired up to go to the poll in huge numbers. But a battered community could also become a cynical community that turns its back on the electoral solution. From my own reading of the African Guyanese community, there is both enthusiasm and cynicism.
The coalition, especially Granger and the APNU, would have a lot of convincing to do among their traditional constituency that they are worthy of another round of confidence in view of what many African Guyanese perceive as a mishandling of the partial gift they got at the last election. It would take a united front of all sections of the African Guyanese leadership to convince that community that this time around it would be different.
Both ethnic communities would be gauging each other. Hence, the coalition is challenged to show swift momentum in both communities. I have not even dealt with the Amerindian vote here. The challenging work begins now.