Strict racial voting dominates Guyana’s modern era politics; each of two substantially large racial groups voting for its ethnic leader at the head of two ethnic parties. Except for a brief period (two election cycles ‒ 2011 and 2015) a small pool of voters but significant enough to determine the outcome of elections emerged on the scene. You can say things were in a state of flux, and this state of flux, produced a change in government.
What has happened since May 2015? The African-led party took power. They stripped the coalition partner of all decision-making power, reduced it to a mere place-holder and drove a wedge between the Africans and Indians, destroying that small pool of swing voters that put them into office in the first place. The racial chasm has deepened and hardened; not since the 1960s has it reached this level of racial suspicion and bitterness.
This oil thing is also guaranteed to play a role in these elections. No racial group in power will want to give up power and would be willing to resort to violence. The smell and taste of the ‘good life’ fuelled by oil money has become a powerful determinant in politics, and will potentially decide the outcome of the 2020 elections.
Elections, of themselves, by themselves, are not panaceas. Elections are all too often easily manipulated, particularly in small countries (Guyana’s population 720,000; registered voters 350,000).
Jagdeo is enormously popular. Granger is enormously popular. Who would dispute these statements? They are self-evident truths. They define our racial politics. The two racial groups make their leaders demigods. Do we need Mr Bisram to point out what is self-evident?
What role may third parties play? By definition, they play a vital role, and are especially needed in a society with two dominant ethnic parties. They are a necessary check on ruling parties with tendencies to set up long running dictatorships. (Both the PNC and the PPP ran de facto long-running dictatorships). The PNC is currently at the start of its second run. So, you absolutely need that third party.
The future of Guyana is coalition politics. It is hard to read tea-leaves for sure. But the PPP leaders have demonstrated they cannot even read big block letters on a wall. They had two chances to effect a coalition ‒ 2011 and 2015. But they were so entrenched in their cocoon, that they did not know the Indian share of the population was declining and they alienated their potential coalition suitor, the AFC, not once but twice. The PPP also believed elections are the sole guarantor of political power. They were so wrong about this.
It is doubtful the PPP has learned any new lessons on Guyanese politics.