To paraphrase a now familiar adage, ‘if the AFC did not exist someone would have invented it’ for the simple reason that it suggests logical and historical/nostalgic ways out of the ethnic divide that still plagues this country.
Certainly, it is still logical to assume that a young dynamic Indian/African leadership might be able to break the stranglehold of the two major political parties by undermining their ethnic support base. Historically, did the experience of the early PPP not demonstrate that such an approach was feasible? Were the young Forbes Burnham and Cheddi Jagan not initially able to bring about a degree of ethnic co-operation? Had it not been for their inexperience and lack of ideological sophistication in a turbulent period of world politics, would they not have been successful? Is that door not even more open today in an international atmosphere of heightened democratic participation, such as we have seen in the Arab Spring and in our recent parking meter protest?
Unfortunately, it appears to me that notwithstanding the elements of logic and nostalgia contained in the above questions, the most appropriate answer is: no. Without specific awareness and focus, no Jagan/Burnham or Ramjattan/Trotman and their fellow travelers were ever going to be capable of overcoming the structural ethnic difficulties of societies like Guyana. Just as the PPP before it, the greater likelihood was that the AFC was going to be consumed by our uniqueness, and that is precisely what appears to be happening!
Yet, it is somewhat disheartening to discourse with those who believe that, as an independent party, the AFC is now dead and waiting to be cremated at the 2020 general and regional elections. I believe that this prediction might be too precipitous and depends upon how that party behaves in the time that is left. As I promised last week, I will consider possible developments as they have occurred to me.
In the 2010 general election in United Kingdom, the Liberal Democratic Party won 23% of the votes and 57 parliamentary seats. It then went into coalition with the Conservative Party and in the 2015 election was only able to win 8% of the vote and 8 seats. It claimed that one of the main reasons for its poor showing was that its ‘efforts and successes had been inadequately communicated to the public and were swamped by the false perception that the party had colluded wholesale in a Conservative agenda’ (http://www.libdems.org.uk/history).
Particularly for small parties, maintaining a positive distinction is a sine qua non of successful coalition politics and vital when the party is in bed with one of two traditional ethnic enemies. The situation is even more urgent now that it is already widely perceived that the AFC has been suborned by APNU. As I argued last week, the AFC has fluffed many opportunities to distinguish itself.
If the AFC is to go into the next election as more than an appendage of the PNC, it will soon have to take steps, possibly seriously quarrelling with the coalition on a series of issues, to positive enhance its public image. It may be that, being unfamiliar with the dynamics of coalition politics, the leaders of the AFC do not understand that the party will have to convince the public that it has not ‘colluded wholesale’ with APNU if it is to survive. As a result, they may well be briskly, even if unknowingly, paddling towards disaster!
There is, however, another, more mundane interpretation which suggests that the present AFC has reneged, or made a secondary priority of its historical position to work to end ethnic politics. Indeed, as politicians tend to, it may have convinced itself that even in our toxic ethnic environment being in power with the PNC is necessary for it to achieve its long term objective. And it does appear that the AFC can only be assured of a place in government if its coalition is successful.
If the AFC had not been in government it would have been most energetically demanding constitutional reform to allow post election coalitions, for it would have been the only way for the party to get to a position to accomplish its historic objective of holding a political balance. Yet today, it is stalling in its leadership of the coalition mandate to implement constitutional reform! Why?
Firstly, without constitutional reform to allow for a post election coalition, the AFC has a solid, if furtively manufactured, excuse for having to stay in the coalition!
Secondly, in a post election coalition scenario an arrangement between the PPP and the PNC will be more promising in terms of its potential to foster ethnic unity and the AFC could easily be left out in the cold. Maybe to protect against such an eventuality, the party once made the proposal that a national front government should include ‘nominees from the political parties in proportion to the votes secured at the national election’ (SN 18/12/2014). However, it is now recognised that constitutional reform must leave in place as large an opposition as possible, and so in the event of a PNC/PPP arrangement the AFC must be prepared to lose governmental office and be that opposition – in our context for a very long time!
T he PNC also has fears, not that the PPP is ever likely to join with the AFC but that in any coalition with the PPP, it could be forever the junior partner. Of course, the PNC now in government has greater leverage and constitutional arrangements could be found for a more equitable longitudinal sharing of authority. Therefore, in terms of governmental arrangements, it is the AFC that has the most to lose if the coalition disintegrates.
We will not have to wait too long to see the direction in which the AFC is trending. If it has prioritised the holding of political office it will do its utmost to maintain the coalition. If it has not, it will more forcefully exert itself within the coalition and in relation to its electoral reform mandate to make it possible for it to go to the next election as an independent party.
Make no mistake; the PNC is stacked with old political war-horses who know that for the AFC to survive and be of any value to itself and/or the coalition it will have at some point to publicly seriously quarrel with APNU on important issues. Incidentally, the ascendency of Raphael Trotman to the leadership of the AFC, to the apparent glee of the PNC leadership, brings some relief that in such an eventuality, the latter’s interest will be better accommodated.
But there might be a difficulty here for the coalition if it forgets that it was an AFC, in reasonable good stead with the public in 2015, that was pivotal in creating the ‘atmosphere of the possible’ that allowed the coalition to take the election of that year. This time around, if the AFC does nothing to improve its image, even if the coalition remains intact, the PNC will be in alliance with an AFC that is shell: a party that has been consumed by our uniqueness and can inspire no one outside of the most die-hard PNC supporters.
But perhaps all of this does not matter to a PNC bent upon staying in government!