Seething with unaddressed grievances, the AFC’s support for President David Granger’s unilateral appointment of the chairperson of the Guyana Elections Commission being the final straw, the Canada chapter of that party has temporarily withdrawn its support from it ‘unless and until’ all its grievances are properly addressed. The president of the chapter, Mr. Tameshwar Lilmohan, complained that the party is micromanaged by a few top executives and exclaimed, ‘I want to make it very clear that it is not only this Gecom matter that has been foisted upon us. It started with the Cummingsburg Accord and we accepted that and then other things happen …. without democratic consultations with members’ (AFC loses support of Canada chapter after backing of Gecom Chairman. SN: 1/11/17). Mr. Lilmohan reminded us that the AFC was intended to be an independent party, a position that was repeatedly stated by the party’s leadership. ‘Yet, just before the 2015 general election, without any consultation of its members and supporters, the AFC leadership performed the most outlandish volte face. It became a coalition partner with the PNC. Members and supporters are still debating the question of in whose interest was this decision made – the country, the Party and its members, or was it for the selected few who are in lucrative Governmental positions today?’
It is impossible not to feel for the likes of Mr. Lilmohan as the original supporters of the AFC were mainly those who rejected the politics of both the PPP/C and PNCR and wanted to find or establish a broad-based independent political group to hold these parties accountable. In 2005, Ms. Sheila Holder, one of its founding members, claimed that the party was formed to bridge the racial divide that had resulted from the dominance of the two major ethnic parties (SN: 26/6/05). In 2006, in an open piece ‘To the People of Guyana’, the AFC stated that it ‘entered this election race with the intention of ending the racial divide and stopping the cycle of post election violence … to deny any single party a majority in parliament so that our parliamentary system for the first time could better articulate the needs and aspirations of a wider section of the Guyanese society, and to …. be the conscience of the nation, to ensure inclusiveness and to provide representation for the people in parliament in a responsible and constructive way’.
To its credit, some AFC leaders – particularly Mr. Khemraj Ramjattan – perhaps being sensitive to his subliminal remit of recruiting among Indians and knowing the difficulties association with the PNC would pose to that objective – for some time objected to an alliance with either of the two older parties. With the PNCR at its lowest ebb in 2006, the AFC won a number of seats at the regional and national elections of that year, indicating that it might be able to achieve this worthy political balancing objective. However, given that our electoral system precludes post- election coalitions and gives the presidency to the party that gains the highest number of votes at a general election, it became quite obvious that there had to be a formal pre-election agreement between the PNCR and the AFC if the autocratic rule of the PPP/C was to be democratically brought to an end. Contributing to this view, in 2010 I wrote: ‘A unitary opposition slate at the next general election is a critical component if government is to be captured and governance transformed. The AFC would be a valued member of any such partnership and it is therefore incumbent on all those who are supportive of the venture to be constructive and encouraging’ (A unitary opposition slate is a critical component if government is to be captured and governance transformed. SN: 13/8/10).
At the elections of 2011 the PPP/C lost its majority but kept the presidency and this demonstrated clearly the necessity for an AFC/PNCR pre-election coalition. Therefore, coming under increasing pressure from all and sundry, not long before the 2015 elections the coalition was formed and government was captured. But here we are today: notwithstanding all the promises, governance, far from being transformed appears now set upon a dangerously reactionary course. Indeed, with the AFC firmly asleep in bed with the PNCR, the leader of the latter took to a National Assembly made turbulent by his unilateral decision to select the chairperson of Gecom, trying to hood-wink the Guyanese people that the coalition is ushering in opportunities and laying ‘the basis for a system of inclusionary democracy!’ How and why did this occur?
As indicated above, the core of the Canadian chapter’s quarrel with the AFC is that it is managed by an unresponsive oligarchy. One only needs to look at how stable their leaderships are to recognise that usually all political parties based upon similar archaic organisational arrangements are oligarchies that behave similarly. Indeed, given its multiethnic nature and the general hostility many in the membership felt against both the PNC and PPP, the decision to join with the PNC, matters not how necessary to oust the PPP/C, was bound to be viewed with suspicion. Nonetheless, it was seen by many both internally and externally as a sensible exercise of leadership. The problem is that the vast majority of those who supported the PNCR/AFC alliance considered it as a relatively short/medium term arrangement to dislodge the PPP/C and implement constitutional reforms and this would have kept the party independent and vibrant in keeping with its founding credo.
However, what makes the oligarchy that runs the AFC appear more estranged from its membership is that the visions that at present motivate it and the membership are now miles apart. While the membership is still largely motivated by the original vision of an independent party, the leadership now sees its future as intricately and permanently linked to that of the coalition with APNU, and this cannot be successfully explained to the whole membership. The party has been hijacked by the PNC faction lodged in the oligarchy!
A good indication of this is found in the fact that the flourishing of the AFC as an independent party rests upon some of the most nationally popular aspects of proposed constitutional reform, e.g., post-election coalitions, removal of the highest multiple principle and more autonomous constituencies. Yet the victory of the pro-PNC oligarchs has been so decisive that this instrument of the AFC’s liberation and development has been placed in its own hands without its being able to utilise it. Indeed, the AFC’s leadership finds itself in the invidious position of having to publicly justify the ‘progress’ the coalition has made on constitutional reform!
Of course, politics is a dynamic process and events could take sudden turns, but it appears to me that the losing AFC oligarchs have obviously made their peace with the current modus vivendi and have left the membership to run on empty. All the talk about renegotiating the Cummingsburg Accord, etc is illusionary. After all the negatives having to do with the implementation of this agreement it is now impossible to transform the current ‘paper’ arrangement into something substantial? But perhaps our political history contains a hopeful lesson for the alienated membership of the AFC. It is said that the party originated in a desire to recreate the 1950s Jagan/Burnham – Ramjattan/Trotman – experiment with national unity and if so, its reemergence may also be located there. On that occasion the split in the oligarchy that controlled the PPP led to Forbes Burnham’s defeat; a split in the party and his subsequent formation of the PNC.