Guyana has never been the home of all Guyanese

It is good that Mr. Tacuma Ogunseye, a senior member of the Working People’s Alliance and one of the most thoughtful, unswerving and prolific supporters of shared-governance (SG), who must be counted among those whom Dr. David Hinds (KN:04/11/2018) referred to as progressive supporters in the APNU+AFC government, has responded to my request for people like him to make constructive and forceful public interventions on the issue of SG.

So, without much ado, and using his contentions, let’s see what substance there is in his claim that my proposal (for the president to use the results of the recently concluded local government elections ‘to reshuffle the government, offering the prime ministership and an agreed upon number of ministers to the party that – apart from his – gains the highest votes at the November 12th local elections. The next largest party, which is most likely to be the AFC, should not be discarded, but in keeping with the coalition campaign promise, the process of electoral reform should immediately begin and end in time for the 2020 general and regional elections,’) is politically impossible.

He stated that while the intent of my proposals might well be in the national interest, my request that the president ‘bring about these changes by unilaterally using executive authority’ is unwise. For the president to act ‘outside of a consultative framework, which must include the PPP as well as the APNU’s coalition partners, and the AFC, will expose him to more criticisms of dictatorial behaviour. …there is no way it can succeed, by the adoption of Jeffrey’s proposed unilateral method, it is likely to do more harm than good to the APNU, the coalition, the African community, and Guyana. … it will serve to confirm the historical fears peddled with some measure of effectiveness by the PPP … who have sought to equate African led rule with political dictatorship.’ Another problem is that my proposal squashes ‘the Cummingsburg agreement that gave rise to the APNU+AFC coalition’.

When one speaks of the president using his powers in modern times, one is not recommending that he should or should not act unilaterally. It is expected that on an important issue such as SG, he must consult his party, but it is for him to determine whom he needs to consult and give good reasons to – consultation does not mean agreement. Ogunseye and his colleagues should be concerned about this paucity of consultation in the coalition and he needs to explain why the president and his party not consulting the AFC and WPA on this issue, any more than they have done in the past, will lead to failure. Furthermore, is it not absurd for him to even suggest that I was contemplating that the president make an offer without first having some discourse with the PPP, when the proposal is mainly directed towards that party? Surely, the less said about the sanctity of the Cummingsburg agreement the better: it was laid to rest in the first weeks of the coalition government.

If Tacuma is saying that in the ‘context of the Guyanese experience’ it is politically impossible for the president to gain a sufficient consensus from those whose support he believes is required to make a SG offer, like is his colleague Dr. David Hinds he should say so, and perhaps inform us whether he, a longtime supporter of SG, has now become a rejectionist! What he should not do is to utilise devices such as consultation and unilateralism to obfuscate and to partly blame the government’s inaction upon the PPP’s unreadiness! 

According to him, the PPP has shown ‘little or no interest in constitution reform, power-sharing and national government’ and that party is likely to view the PNCR’s offer as face-saving for its poor performance at the local government elections. Furthermore, the PPP believes that its victory in 2020 is assured and would not risk alienating sections of its supporters by now making these hard decisions.   He can, however, conceive of one area in which an SG proposal may be attractive to the PPP. ‘It can be argued that the PPP, as a significant part of the government, will be better placed to protect its interests and avoid being a victim of what they believe will be electoral rigging in 2020’.

For every year of its reign from 1968 to 1992, the PNC had to engage in massive electoral manipulation that resulted in an economically and politically ruined country. The PPP/C was democratically elected to office in elections from 1992 to 2015, and in an effort to suppress persistent opposition protests, adopted the unsustainable political path of ethnic dominance, which left us as divided as ever, with an extremely bitter taste in the mouth of most Afro-Guyanese, and led to its demise. There has never been a time in our post-independence history when all Guyanese have felt at home in Guyana. Claiming to understand this and promising to create a more inclusive Guyana brought this coalition to government, and fears of rigged elections or not, this historical context should be sufficient to convince the leadership of all political parties that Guyana needs a new political day: a consensual as opposed to a majoritarian democracy. One would not be doing politics if bold political action did not cause some disruption in the ranks, but Ogunseye’s perception of the PPP position is simply too rigid. The coalition has lost local government elections before and proceeded as if nothing happened: why would it feel it needs to make concessions now? Given Cheddi Jagan and Forbes Burnham’s decades-long flirtation with notions of national unity government, it is not surprising that there is significant support in the PPP for such an arrangement.

 For years, I considered the support for SG without proper checks and balances of senior PPP members such as Hydar Ally reckless, and recently he was at it again. ‘That the APNU+AFC is now retreating from its stated commitment to national reconciliation could also be seen from its failure to advance the process of constitutional reform along the lines of inclusive governance and power-sharing. … Dr Jagan … was even prepared in the interest of national unity and political stability to share half of the Cabinet with the PNC. …the political value of such an approach in the context of our plurality continues to have relevance’ (SN: 29/03/2018).

Before and after the 2015 elections, I spoke at PPP events on shared governance and had good responses at both the collective and individual levels. About two months ago, an editorial in the Guyana Times, which usually supports the PPP, stated, ‘Leaders from both the PNC and PPP, if they work to put their past behind them and attempt to genuinely negotiate a power-sharing agreement or a formula for shared Government, as well as a system where the ‘winner does not take all’, Guyanese would be the only victors, because such a system can be seen as practical only if all parties are on board in 2018. If the coalition does not get serious about constitutional reform, shared governance and national unity, it means it is happy with ‘managing the decline of a once great country’. Having a few meetings as adumbrated by the Constitution does not result in ‘inclusionary democracy or Government’ (GT: 05/09/2018).

So far as I am aware, the PPP has not recently rejected SG, but just as Desmond Hoyte, who refused to continue Forbes Burnham’s national unity discourse with the PPP, could not, without appearing hypocritical, immediately upon losing office, demand SG, the PPP cannot and should not be waited upon to openly commit to it at this stage.  It is for the coalition, particularly the PNCR and WPA, who made commitments to the voters in 2015, to vigorously work to fulfill its agenda by taking the initiative to open the discourse and put a sensible proposal on the negotiation table for the PPP to accept or reject. 

henryjeffrey@yahoo.com

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