Comment is required on former president Bharrat Jagdeo’s statements about the course he and his party intend to take should the attempts he believes are being made by the government to manipulate the 2020 general and regional elections succeed, for if he is forced to respond in such a negative fashion, there goes the opportunity to optimize the significant wealth fossil fuels are projected to generate.
Mr. Jagdeo threatened a robust response. According to the literature, there are over 100 ways of protesting against an errant government and the managerial infrastructure of modern society is so complicated and interrelated, it appears to me that the PPP/C has far more than the necessary strategically located support to make political management extremely difficult. The PNCR can also attest to the fact that the PPP’s history of struggle against elections wrongdoing has contributed in no small measure to the underdevelopment in which Guyana still wallows, and in these kinds of contests children rarely wish to be outdone by their parents. Many, but essentially APNU+AFC supporters, have condemned the position taken by Mr. Jagdeo, but in my assessment, the evidence suggests that he has good reason to conclude that nefarious electoral shenanigans are afoot, and as the leader of a major political party with only two years to the next elections, the best time to focus attention upon the issue must be now.
At a general level, from its first months in office, the regime began to give ominous signs that supportive public opinion, upon which electoral support depends, was not high on its list of priorities. In opposition it persistently chided the PPP/C for its profligacy, but almost immediately upon taking office allocated itself huge salary increases on the laughable grounds that such increases would help to prevent it from being corrupt. Furthermore, the coalition government still refuses to fulfill core commitments to constitutional reform and the reinstitution of collective bargaining in the public sector!
Specifically, the recent events surrounding the Guyana Elections Commission are sufficient to give the PPP/C cause for alarm. Firstly, President David Granger opened the innings with a blatantly false interpretation of the constitution, which claimed that only a judge could become the chair of the commission. A secondary school child would know that this is not so and the president definitely knew better, but this ruse got him into court, from which, notwithstanding the clear intention of the Carter formula to create the Guyana Elections Commission by consensus, he extracted a decision that allowed him to unilaterally appoint the chair of the commission. Then came the accusation by the PPP/C that ethnic balance at the commission was badly skewed in favour of those of African descent and rather than undertaking a proper analysis and debunking or not the accusation and providing sensible explanations and solutions, questionable statistics and foolish notions of meritocracy in this ethnically charged political context are being canvassed. Then we were privy to the weirdest application of meritocracy when the top candidate for the position of Deputy Chief Election Officer, Mr. Vishnu Persaud, an Indian, was cast aside by the casting vote of the chair for a candidate who clearly supports the regime. One could go on, but on these grounds alone, if Mr. Jagdeo does not conclude and warn his supporters that the APNU+AFC coalition is most likely set upon an illicit electoral course, he would need his head examined!
But that is only half the story. Much as his predecessors had to do, but only now for essentially indigenous reasons, the leader of the Indian-dominated PPP/C is once again forced to promise action to protect ‘democracy’, by which he essentially means majority rule. In the first instance, in the 1950s and 1960s, given the formidable forces aligned against it, the PPP was unsuccessful, but fortuitously the fall of communism came to its aid and it was returned to government in 1992. Given its ethnic divide, Guyana is naturally a difficult country to manage and the PPP/C was simply not up to the task. It is usual in our kind of countries for the incumbent regime to have to face radical political activism from the ethnic entrepreneurs on the other side. Thus, upon taking government in 1992, the PPP/C was persistently confronted by a truculent essentially African PNC opposition and in its effort to protect its democratic right to rule the PPP/C sought to establish political dominance founded upon its Indian ethnic majority. This act of the PPP/C, which took shape after the death of Cheddi Jagan, was new and particularly pernicious. As a result, the democratic problem Mr. Jagdeo now faces has largely been created by himself and the PPP/C!
Forbes Burnham’s PNC was brought to office to thwart communism and the PNC stayed in government only so long as capitalism needed its help. Political motives in the ethnic context are usually difficult to decipher, but Burnham’s was not a deliberate project to establish African political dominance. He was a nationalist/socialist in the age of the containment of communism and attempting to fulfill this agenda, with dexterity and nuanced moves, he milked this context for all it was worth. However, at the end of the day Burnham was importantly the gate-keeper for international capital against the perceived communism of the Jagans, and by way of elections manipulation he disenfranchised every Guyanese.
Therefore, what Mr. Jagdeo needs to understand is that APNU is not a rogue political oligarchy gone solo: it is underpinned by a whole tribe of people who believe that they suffered politically, psychologically, economically and otherwise under his rule, and global appeals to democracy have not been attractive to people who feel this way. There is no point at this stage in debating whether or not the political perceptions of Africans or Indians are justified as in politics perception is reality and the political context must have either given them sufficient reason to or could not have prevented them from developing such beliefs. Moreover, it is not possible to change these perceptions, in which each group prioritises its own safety and freedom, before the 2020 elections. The result is that, if Mr. Jagdeo’s assessment is correct, stripped of the pretence of its being a government of national unity, the present regime is set upon doing precisely what the PPP/C failed to accomplish: African ethnic dominance, only now, based upon electoral manipulations.
So what is the PPP/C offering to those of African ethnicity, who in my assessment now hold two conflicting positions: they do not generally support the rigging of elections but they are not prepared to take the chance of the PPP/C returning to office. Even without the trappings of government, this is a formidable group and the leader of the PPP/C cannot legitimately ignore such fundamental concerns. He must tell this people how he intends to square this circle and how he accounts for the democratic deficit he and his party created and for which we must all now pay.
It appears to me that regardless of how it goes, at its extremes in the present political context, the solution Mr. Jagdeo has so far proffered has the potential to lead to violence or a persistent and debilitating undercurrent of ethnic resentment. Mr. Jagdeo’s position about the government’s intentions has merit but the solution he proposes is wrong for the political environment in which we live.