Debate and discussion are always good and certainly welcome for they serve to increase understanding. In this regard I refer to Mr Mike Persaud’s contention that the coalition government has sharpened and deepened racial divisions in this country such as has not been seen since 1964 (‘What did the AFC say privately about the Gecom appointment?’ SN, Nov 24, 2017). In that letter Mr Persaud goes on to conclude that as a result of the foregoing, “the next elections will be a racial grudge match, thanks to the PNC for emasculating the AFC and moving towards a total and complete takeover of the state.”
My question is: when has an election in Guyana since 1957, not been a racial grudge match (other than perhaps in 2006 when some 25,000 persons deserted the PNC for the Raphael Trotman-led AFC and in 2011 when the Ramjattan-led AFC secured 35,333 votes)? The (approx) 25,000 voters returned home in 2011 and the (approx) 35,000 in 2015 (evidenced by the PPP increasing its tally from 166,340 to 202,656 votes).
As a candidate for the WPA in the 1997 elections, my recollection is that the WPA garnered fewer than 5,000 votes. In the middle class neighbourhood in which I then lived –Atlantic Gardens, Montrose ‒ only three votes went outside of the PPP and PNC! Those would have been cast by myself, my wife (also a WPA candidate) and a third person who may have been someone obligated to my wife.
Having lived in Guyana for practically all of my sixty years, it is my experience of politics here: that it has always been a racial grudge match. The crossover vote has always been too insignificant to be impactful. That has now changed with the Amerindian vote being the huge variable.
Though Mr Persaud has not said it, there is a narrative out there being peddled by the PPP that ‘they (are) coming back.’ How, I have to ask myself, will this happen given the recognition that race has always, and continues to be, the bedrock of voter alignment? For this we have to look to the racial breakdown of the population. For East Indians it was 51.93% in 1980, 48.63% in 1991, 43.43% in 2002 and 39.83% in 2012. For African/Black it was 30.82% in 1980, 32.26 in 1991, 30.23 in 2002 and 29.25% in 2012. Mixed persons moved from 11.16% in 1980 to 19.88 in 2012 and the number of Amerindians also doubled from 5.31% to 10.51% during the same period.
So, East Indians, as a percentage of the total population declined from a high of almost 52% in 1980 to below 40% in 2012 in a continuous downward trend. African/Black declined by approximately 1.5% in the corresponding period. By 2020 it will be twelve years from 2012 and the proportion will shift further away from the PPP. To their credit, the PPP has always successfully used the line that Indians are in an overwhelming majority to dishearten Afro-Guyanese from voting out of a sense that it was an exercise in futility as exemplified by the late Pandit Reepu’s boast that, ‘is licks like peas.’ How else can one explain that the results of the 2012 census were released in two stages? First, in July 2014 (preliminary) and then, two years later in July 2016 (final) with the racial breakdown not being part of the preliminary results. This can be only in furtherance of the phenomenon I’ve described, one aspect of which was the PPP’s concealment of Guyana’s ethnic makeup. The PPP have been proven over the years to leave nothing to chance.
Another day I shall address the question of the pro-agrarian policies of Forbes Burnham’s PNC which empowered Indians disproportionately and Desmond Hoyte’s Economic Recovery Programme (ERP) which firmly benefited Indians, and not his constituents but which brought no electoral dividend.
Indeed, it is all about race but the tables are now turned.
People’s National Congress Reform