Jagdeo right to fear elections rigging but his response is wrong – Jeffrey

Political analyst Henry Jeffrey says the evidence suggests that Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo has good reason to fear that electoral shenanigans are afoot but that his threatened robust response is the wrong approach as it could impact the oil economy and development.

In his Future Notes column in Tuesday’s edition of Stabroek News  Jeffrey noted that APNU+AFC supporters had condemned the position taken by Jagdeo but that in his, Jeffrey’s assessment, there are signs of concern.

Jeffrey said that the APNU+AFC government 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!” Jeffrey asserted. 

Jeffrey, who has had historic connections to both the PNC and the PPP, also cited recent developments around the elections commission which he said are sufficient to give the opposition party cause for concern.

“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!” Jeffrey declared.

He then situated the discussion in the decades-old ethno-political divide in the country and faulted the PPP/C for how it handled the problem after it returned to office in 1992 following the end of the Cold War.

Jeffrey said that it was usual in countries of this type for the incumbent regime to have to face radical political activism from the “ethnic entrepreneurs” on the other side. Therefore, he said, upon taking government in 1992, the PPP/C was regularly 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 based 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!” Jeffrey contended.

Arguing that Forbes Burnham’s PNC was brought to power in 1964  to thwart communism and stayed in government only so long as capitalism needed its help, Jeffrey said that Burnham’s reign was not a deliberate project to establish African political dominance but he was a nationalist/socialist in the age of the containment of communism and attempting to fulfill this agenda. At the end of the day, he said that Burnham was importantly the gate-keeper for international capital against the perceived communism of the Jagans, and by way of elections rigging 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”, Jeffrey stated. 

Henry Jeffrey

Jeffrey asked what the PPP/C was offering to those of African ethnicity who do not generally support the rigging of elections but are not prepared to take the chance of the PPP/C returning to office. He said that this is a formidable group and the leader of the PPP/C cannot legitimately ignore such fundamental concerns. 

“(Jagdeo) must tell these 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”, Jeffrey said.

He added “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”.

Jeffrey asserted that 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”.

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