Contending that the government’s reluctance to pursue constitutional reform has damaged the credibility of the Alliance For Change (AFC) and cost it key support, former Speaker Ralph Ramkarran says the party’s ministers should resign their Cabinet posts and instead serve as watchdog parliamentarians to ensure the fulfilment of election campaign promises.
“The failure of the government to proceed with constitutional reform, and the AFC’s seeming inability to push this agenda, has therefore deprived the AFC of much of its credibility and raison d’etre. If the AFC has been pushing for constitutional reform and the government as a whole has been dragging its feet, the time has come for the AFC ministers to resign from the government,” Ramkarran writes in his latest Conversation Tree column, which is reproduced in today’s Sunday Stabroek.
“By resigning its ministries, the AFC will restore some of its credibility and perhaps support. The public will see that for the AFC, political office and the perks are of less importance than political principle; that the AFC is determined to ensure that its policy of the end of racial politics is implemented; and that the AFC is a party of integrity. The new relationship between APNU and the AFC, with the AFC out of the government but its members sitting on the back benches, should be the subject of the new or amended accord, whether negotiated in Cummingsburg or elsewhere, which the AFC is proposing to have with APNU,” he adds.
Ramkarran’s suggestions come in wake of the recent criticism the party has faced over its publicly stated support for President David Granger’s unilateral appointment of retired judge James Patterson as the Chairman of the Guyana Elections Commission (Gecom).
Some of that criticism has come from within the party itself, as evidenced by recent leaked emails, which show that some party executives believe that the party’s support for the controversial decision has made it look weak and will likely result in its losing supporters. In particular, Chairman of the AFC’s United States Chapter Dr Rohan Somar noted, “Given the worsening racial polarisation in Guyana, this unilateral appointment by the Executive PNC President of an Afro Guyanese Gecom Chair-man, whether right or wrong, rips open the scars of (the) PNC rigging election(s). You have just thrown red meat to the notion of “PNC rigging election” which, in my view, will cause the AFC to forever lose Indo Guyanese support at the poll.”
Somar further stated that the decision by the AFC to accept the unilateral appointment was a major strategic blunder since the situation could have provided the perfect opportunity to stand its ground and “shake the foundation of the PNC dominated coalition and maintain its independence, leverage and credibility.”
In his column, Ramkarran argues that while the AFC has drawn support across the ethnic divide, it was the support from Indo-Guyanese that enabled the APNU+AFC coalition to win the 2015 elections. He adds that despite this, the AFC has shown “a palpable lack of understanding” of the depth of fear of Indo-Guyanese and others that APNU will rig the next elections. “The unilateral appointment of a Chair for Gecom exacerbated that fear. And the AFC knows that they believe the evidence which caused the fear,” he says, while noting that the PNC—now the PNCR, which is the main constituent of APNU—rigged elections from 1968 to 1985. “Second, the PNC by itself has never won more than 42 percent of the vote in free and fair elections. Third, the AFC has lost substantial support and its contribution to the coalition at the next elections will be very modest. Fourth, this will keep the coalition below 50 percent. Fifth, in a two-party contest, the PPP will win. The answer? Rig! The AFC’s insensitivity to this scenario and its failure to persuade, or seek to persuade, the President to adopt a different approach to the appointment of the Gecom chair, has lost it substantial credibility,” he contends.
According to Ramkarran, while Guyana is not the same country that it was between the 1960s and the 1980s and the main political parties have changed, the ethnic competition between its major races, which has given rise to the permanent struggle for ethno-political dominance, remains the fundamental condition of the society.
He further notes that it was the desire for ethno-political dominance that led to the break-up of the PNC-UF coalition in 1964, which preceded the rigging of elections from 1968 to 1985. “This memory is seared in the consciousness of Guyanese and, in particular, Guyanese Indians because they attribute the rigging of elections as being designed to deprive them of political power. In divided societies, the memory of events which are believed by one ethnic group to be directed against it by the other does not recede. The burden of victimhood does not lighten. This the AFC has failed to understand this and it will cost it even more of its Guyanese Indian support. Let me hasten to add: The sense of victimhood is not confined to Indians. It is felt by Guyanese Africans as well, against Indians and Indian leaders but for other reasons,” he adds.
Ramkarran also points out that the end of racial politics is fundamental to the AFC’s credo, with constitutional reform expected to be the means by which this would be achieved. It is against this background that he argues that the failure of the government to proceed with constitutional reform has harmed the AFC. (Constitutional reform within the first 100 days in office was one of the promises in the APNU+AFC campaign manifesto for the May, 2015 polls. A bill for the establishment of a Constitutional Reform Commission is currently before the National Assembly.)
Ramkarran further argues that the party cannot sustain its credibility while remaining ineffective in relation to the most important aspects of its platform. Further lack of success, he adds, will leave its credibility in tatters but with backbench Members of Parliament, it will be far more influential and respected because at any time it would be able to bring down the government. As a result, he says it will then be in a far stronger position to make demands for fulfillment of coalition promises on constitutional reform and other matters.