It is very rare for one individual to be vested with so much potential power to change the trajectory of Guyanese politics as Elisabeth Harper. Who is Elisabeth Harper and what exactly is her potential power? And, what is so terribly wrong with the current state of politics?
Ms Elisabeth Harper is an African-Guyanese woman who was recently selected to run as the prime ministerial candidate on the PPP ticket in the scheduled May 11 national elections. It is widely believed that she had been selected to give balance to the party’s ethnic outlook.
The problem with Guyanese politics can be spelled out in one sentence: Excessively high rates of ethnic voting for perceived ethnic parties leads to a flawed democracy. The end result over the last 60 years is that parties in power are mainly supported by an ethnic group, and the other group sees itself as being permanently excluded from power. This persistent condition of Guyanese politics leads to lack of national cohesion which in turn leads to underdevelopment.
One troubling fact over the last 23 years has been that the African-Guyanese Prime Minister Sam Hinds could not succeed to the presidency (except as a stop-gap) no matter what circumstances created a vacancy in that office. This single fact has hardened the perception that the PPP is very much an Indian-ethnic party, and as such it becomes so much harder for the PPP to win African support. And, so our flawed democracy (some pundits deem Guyana an ethnocracy) continues from generation to generation.
Elisabeth Harper possesses the potential power to change the trajectory of Guyanese politics. She can put an end to the devious practices of ethnic parties by demanding the full membership rights of the PPP which would enable her to succeed to the presidency in the event of a vacancy in that office. A failure on the part of Ms Harper to negotiate the terms of her candidacy would only solidify the perception that she is window-dressing. Ms Harper has been introduced as a member of the Civic appendage of the PPP. The Civic does not exist. Ms Harper would do much harm to her character and career to accept the notion that she is a representative of a fictional grouping.
I would urge all enlightened Guyanese abroad and at home to write letters to the PPP head-quarters in Robb Street, to demand Ms Harper’s right to succeed to the presidency. It would also be in the interest of the PPP to win over support from an alienated and disaffected racial group. Politics in multiracial societies is about winning support from all racial groups, not from a single racial group. PPP winning, say, 12-15 per cent African support will make Guyana a less flawed democracy.
I would also urge the PPP to issue a statement embracing the notion of cross-racial voting.