Within the past week Messrs Rickford Burke and Vishnu Bisram in separate letters to the press have called for the youth population in Guyana to form a new political party to replace the two major, entrenched political parties in the country. Then, on January 15, Mr Ralph Ramkarran, a former stalwart of the PPP and a former speaker of the legislature, is reported in the Stabroek News as saying that Guyana needs a new political party.
In my opinion, a new political party, either spearheaded by the youths or others, will not succeed to any significant degree to attract voters away from the two major parties. Even in well-established democracies such as the UK and Canada where the race factor is not significant, third parties are unable to attract supporters away from the two established parties in these countries. The Liberal-Democratic Party (Liberals) in the UK has not led a government for over a century and the New Democratic Party in Canada has never held power. And in Guyana, first the UF and now the AFC have been ineffective appendages of the PNC/APNU.
For the majority of Guyanese, voting is an emotional, not a rational affair and the majority of individuals will vote with their hearts rather than their heads. Dr Henry Jeffrey’s column ‘Still gat to vote for these jokers’ (Stabroek News, December 20, 2017) captures this emotional attachment of an individual to his party. While the article reports on a supporter of the current government, the same could have been written about a supporter of the previous government. Supporters of the two major parties will heed calls “do not split the votes”.
With this kind of emotionalism in Guyanese politics, the race of a party’s leader, to a large extent, determines which race group will support the party. The AFC recognized this at its formation and agreed to rotate its leader. Trotman and Ramjattan were the young leaders of the time who were expected to bridge the racial divide and bring Guyanese together. However, as is well known, disagreement arose when it was Mr Ramjattan’s turn to assume leadership. When Mr Ramjattan assumed the leadership role, Mr Trotman was reported as claiming failing health and was not very active in canvassing for the party in 2011. Interestingly, now we see a very active and apparently very healthy Mr Trotman playing a key role as one of the top ministers in the APNU+AFC coalition.
Some may argue that Dr Walter Rodney was able to bridge the race divide when he led the WPA. Undoubtedly, he was extremely popular and attracted support from all race groups. However, he was a unique individual, someone who likely emerges in a country once in a century. He was a unique person at a special time in the history of the country. A leader like him is not likely to emerge in the foreseeable future. Of note too, is his impact on the WPA which did not survive him.
In a letter captioned ‘If Guyana remains with two major parties these must transform’ (Stabroek News January 17) Mr Malcolm Watkins writes, “I do not agree that a third party will solve the problem”. He then states “politicians must start changing their message and behaviour towards a less toxic style and move towards a more contemporary form of politics through actions and decisions” and “the private sector, that also includes the multi-national corporations, such as Exxon and others, must now actively intensify their corporate social responsibility (CSR) mechanism to foster a more inclusive and progressive environment”.
In my opinion, the two major parties are not likely to change, and their supporters will continue to be blind to their faults. The private sector, especially multi-national corporations, will do what is in their best interest and will not rock the boat with those in power. Unless there is constitutional change that has a built-in system of reward and penalty, the two major parties will continue to pander to their respective bases. Guyanese should call for constitutional reform and put forward revolutionary ideas, what some would describe as ‘thinking outside the box’. In this regard, I believe Dr Henry Jeffrey’s article ‘Ending ethnic political conflict’ (Stabroek News, December 27, 2017) deserves serious consideration and debate. Also, I believe the University of Guyana with scholars in law, sociology, history, political science, etc, should take a leading role in fostering debate and discussion on the way forward.