Saying that the Alliance For Change (AFC) had no leverage to win concessions from A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) in a joint slate for the upcoming local government polls, political analyst and Working People’s Alliance (WPA) executive David Hinds says he believes it has been forced to contest independently to prove its “electoral worth.”
Similar views are also shared by some AFC members although they see the party’s independent campaign in the upcoming polls as an opportunity for it to reconnect with constituents who do not believe that it has an independent voice in the governing coalition.
“I am not surprised that the AFC has decided to enter the elections on their own. The only other choice was to not contest at all. And that would have been an admission of defeat. In effect, the APNU got what it wanted—it forced the AFC to go out and prove its electoral worth in circumstances that are not favourable to the latter,” Hinds yesterday said.
“The not so-veiled message to the AFC was clear—contest on your own or contest with us on APNU terms. I think it all came down to leverage—the AFC did not have any bargaining power. Unlike in 2015, when it was able to use its performance at the 2011 election to strike a hard bargain in the Cummingsburg Accord, this time around it did not have that asset,” he added.
Following inconclusive talks with its governing coalition partner APNU, the AFC on Sunday announced that it would go to the November polls solo.
Going alone to the polls will be seen as a serious test for the AFC as many analysts have said that coalescing with APNU in 2015 and not being able to rein it in once in government has resulted in the party losing the support which had first propelled it to five seats in the 2006 general elections and seven seats in 2011. It currently holds 12 seats in Parliament following the Cummingsburg Accord with APNU in 2015 and had been hoping for a similar deal for the local government elections in November. However, APNU appeared to have balked at this and was not inclined to grant any more concessions to it.
Because the votes at the 2015 election were combined, Hinds believes that it could not accurately pinpoint either party’s share and the AFC did itself an injustice by not factoring in this fact when it reportedly asked for 40% of all seat allocations for the local government polls.
“If it is true that the AFC wanted 40 percent of the seat allocation, that was not the smartest demand to make, especially since they badly wanted to go into the election as a coalition. It gave the APNU the chance to say “we tried to accommodate you but your demands were unreasonable.” Perhaps a 20% request would have swayed the APNU. But a 40% demand was dead on arrival simply because the AFC could not demonstrate that it has that amount of electoral support, particularly in the Indian Guyanese community. Had the AFC from 2015 onwards cultivated and consolidated its Indian Guyanese support base, it would have been in a stronger position to make the demands it sought,” Hinds posited.
“The decision to go alone leaves the AFC in an exposed position. It now must prove whether its electoral support is intact, or [whether] it has vanished. And it has to do so in an election in which the turnout is likely to be very low. Remember this is the first time since 2011 that the AFC would be facing the electorate on its own,” he added.
Hinds’ belief that the party has been forced to prove its “electoral worth” is also shared by some of the AFC’s executives. One party executive explained, “He is right in some sense. Some of us foresaw this outcome since earlier and others only during the talks with APNU. I told them from earlier let us go at it alone because it would only be a win-win for us. We ourselves would have determined that we are going alone and would not be made to look a fool in the eyes of the public; that it was the APNU that forced us. It could have shown we had some sort of independence…,” the source said.
“Making that decision from since January would have given us all this time to campaign and let us know we had to work for our share of the pie; we had to contribute meaningfully. It would have sent a message to those of us who got too comfortable in Parliament and in ministries that support has to be earned. Do you know how much we could have pushed in? Demanding 40% off the bat without real justification would not and is not going to cut it,” he added.
Another AFC member said that while Hinds is right, it gives the party the opportunity to reconnect with its constituency and strengthen its negotiating line ahead of the 2020 general elections.
“Look, all of us know that most of what he says is true but we have to take it and use it to our advantage. This gives us a chance to reconnect with that shifting demographic. We have an opportunity here to prove our salt to the people. In Georgetown, we have shown what we stood for when we voted against the parking meter contract. We have voiced our dissatisfaction on what is happening at City Hall, we have a large constituency here. So, it isn’t as if people do not know. We will use our representative councillors to bring tangible returns to the people and by 2020 they will judge us on what we do,” the executive said.
“That alone can help to bring back that shifting demographic and bring in new voters who are looking for works and not words. The AFC has been a party that brings works. We may not be politically experienced but we are sincere. I think that is what the voters are looking for; they are not looking for politicians, they are looking for humans they can relate to and who will bring to them the quality of life they want. We will start at the NDCs and work our way. It is not all that doom and gloom, this can work in our favour,” the executive added.
Another party insider also agreed that the AFC would have to prove its worth. “Even in our own party, we had a lot of persons, especially the diaspora representatives, saying that we should take what we have now and go as a coalition. They believe that we have to show a united front or risk being cut down internally. Although that may be good for a general election—and I have my views—this decision… gives us that chance to prove to even on our own that we are capable of doing this. The AFC has always been an underdog and look where we are now…when we started do you think anyone thought we would have been here?” the member questioned.
But Hinds said that garnering support is not as easy as the AFC believes since he thinks that the PPP would make it “extremely difficult” for it to even campaign in the Indian Guyanese communities, where the PPP believes it has the most supporters. “This would leave the party with having to compete with the APNU for African Guyanese votes. The optics of the latter scenario will be interesting to watch—two coalition partners fighting each other for votes,” he said.
‘Come up short’
And while he believes that the AFC’s results at the polls will ultimately show it to be a weak party, he said that there will be valuable lessons to learn from it and key among them is that neither of the two partners has the characteristics of coalition building. “First, it will tell us whether the party is still a significant electoral force. Second, how well the AFC does will tell us what bargaining power it will have when the Cummingsburg Accord comes up for renewal before the next election. I think the voter turnout among those who voted for the coalition in 2015 will be very low and this would hurt the AFC chances of doing well. Those who bother to vote will most likely vote for the APNU, which has the machinery to bring out some voters. So, my sense is that the AFC would come out of this much weaker than it was in 2015. But as they say, political behaviour is unpredictable. I may be proven wrong,” he said.
“Finally, for all the positive spin by the AFC and President Granger about the good health of the coalition relative to the 2020 election, the fact that they could not reach an understanding on the local government elections suggests the opposite. Despite the positive rhetoric, the entrenched culture of party hegemony, particularly from the big partner, continues to trump the letter and spirit of coalition building. Coalition-building requires enlightened leadership, constant meaningful consultation, mutual respect among partners, democratic decision-making and the willingness of the big partner to concede ground in the interest of the collective. I think the coalition has come up short in that regard,” he added.