‘Control of the process yields control over outcomes. Skilled negotiators think hard about the impact of process on perceptions of interests and alternatives, on the part of their counterparts and those they represent, and on their own side. Then they work to fashion – often to negotiate – processes likely to lead in favorable directions’ (Breakthrough International Negotiations, www josseybass.com).
This statement came to mind as I was considering how the fracas developed at the swearing-in ceremony of the new Beterverwagting (BV)/Triumph Neighbourhood Democratic Council and how it was that the 8th May Movement (8MM) that came out of the elections process with a fairly good hand and was nicely located ended up with neither the chair or the deputy chair; either of which it wanted. The existence of the 8MM has provided insight into how exciting politics would be in less bifurcate political conditions, but a level of naivety allowed the 8MM to fall foul of Guyana’s pervasive political unaccountability.
In the local government elections of 2015, the traditional supporters of the PPP/C voted solidly for that party, but under pressure from 8MM, APNU did not participate. As noted last week, this time around APNU reorganized, brought in younger candidates and the results of the elections were APNU 8 seats, PPP 6 and 8MM 4. Although APNU may have preferred the obliteration of 8MM, generally the election results were not bad for any of the parties. The PPP/C improved its position by one seat, APNU, back after its two year hiatus, won the majority of seats, and bearing in mind that 8MM was contesting in a traditional APNU stronghold, its winning 4 to APNU’s 8 seats suggested that there is significant dissatisfaction among the latter’s traditional supporters and that when there is not an overarching national threat, there is a place for independent local actors in dominant ethnic constituencies.
As I understand it, at the swearing-in ceremony, after the oath was given to the APNU councilors and some members of the PPP/C, the clerk called upon the first 8MM councillor. The party had a member who could not read properly and in order to prevent any embarrassment to him, and more specifically, to overcome the possibility of his being disqualified by what they believed was an APNU-inspired plot, 8MM had decided to ask the clerk to read the oath to each of them. The clerk eventually did so for the first councillor but then decided she was not going to read for the second, and a quarrel began.
The clerk then sought to proceed to the nomination of office holders and a walkout was initiated by the PPP/C chairperson, who agreed with the position taken by 8MM and with the exception of the lone PPP/C’s African candidate, 8MM and the PPP/C left the chamber. The parties were later recalled with a promise that the oath would be read to the 8MM councillors but by that time two had left for home and efforts were being made for them to return. In the meantime, the meeting moved to nominations for office bearers and the leader of the PPP/C was first nominated as chairperson by its lone African member who had remained after the walkout. However, after some consultation with the APNU the PPP/C’s leader was finally nominated as deputy chairperson and Jimmaul Baggot, one-time independent councillor but now on APNU’s slate, was nominated as chairperson.
The clerk then read the oath to and swore in the first of the remaining three 8MM members who were now present, but then, claiming that she could not read, refused to do so for the other two. This prompted another 8MM walkout, but not surprisingly this time without the PPP/C who was about to receive the most it could have expected from the process, as with the apparent support of APNU, its chairperson was nominated for the deputy position. It was then announced that those who were not sworn in would be at the first statutory meeting of the NDC, and the meeting proceeded to the election of office bearers. Jimmaul Baggot was elected chairperson unopposed but 4 councillors were nominated for the deputy position: 3 from APNU and the leader of the PPP/C. This configuration, which most likely would have and did split the APNU votes, was a gift to the PPP/C whose candidate won with 7 votes, one coming from APNU, and the other APNU votes were divided among the other contestants.
Only days before the swearing in, with help from Congress Place, APNU believed that a deal was brokered with 8MM for it to have the chair and 8MM the deputy chair. The PPP/C was also making advances to 8MM to give it the chair in return for the deputy position. However, 8MM took the position that there was no deal with either party, only proposals. To the extent that the PPP/C would have loved to defeat the APNU in its stronghold; to a similar extent APNU could not have countenanced being out-maneuvered by the PPP/C and 8MM and it was on the basis of this perception of possible deception by 8MM that APNU hatched its plot of disenfranchisement that was responsible for the unseemly behaviour that took place.
As said above, 8MM left the last local elections with a good hand, was well placed to win either the chair or the deputy chair, but instead ended up with neither, and I believe that the reason this was so is that it did not give sufficient thought to the process in which it was involved. Firstly, it did not take sufficient time to allay the suspicions of the other contesting parties, particularly APNU, who felt that it was being deceptive and possibly in cahoots with its arch-enemy, the PPP/C.
Secondly, proper account was not taken of the fact that Guyana has a substantial history of prioritizing political designs over the law. For example, during the colonial period without PPP participation, much less agreement, the British, routinely changed the law to gerrymander geographical constituencies in favour of those they wanted to win. The distribution of state lands at Pradoville 2, refusing the workers collective bargaining, the quarrel over severance pay, the president looking us all in the face and saying that according to the constitution, only judge-like persons could become the chair of the Guyana Elections Commission, and the recent charge from the chairperson of the PNCR to her elected councillors are but a smattering of cases in point.
Rather than trying to close a deal one way or another before the swearing-in began, the 8MM strategy appeared to have been to play fast and loose at that occasion in the hope of winning the chair. This approach is rarely recommended in negotiation processes and when coupled to the corrosive cultural context above it became lethal to its aspirations. The larger problem is that since a general process of political accountability does not exist in Guyana, there is no end in sight to the above political behaviour and thus it must, consistently, be properly taken into account.