It is rather unfortunate that Minister Ally views the matter regarding the discontinuation of the columns at the Chronicle as a “little issue” that is being blown out of proportion. (Demerara Waves March 19, 2018). I hope she reflects a little more on what that statement betrays and perhaps retract it.
First, the statement betrays a cavalier attitude to a pivotal aspect of good governance—government’s respect for right to free expression and political dissent within the ambit of the law. How can the Minister refer to a situation where an editor tells members of the board of the newspaper that his removal of two columnists was motivated by external “pressure” as a “little issue”? (‘Board member Ruel Johnson disagrees that Chronicle EIC can fire columnists’ Stabroek News March 19)
The Minister seems not to be concerned about what that “little” issue means in the bigger scheme of things—that it calls into question the government’s stated promise to desist from turning the state media into partisan mouthpieces of the government. This response by the Minister plays right into the hands of the government’s detractors and critics who hammer home the message every day that the government is authoritarian. One of the trademarks of authoritarian governments is their cavalier dismissal of charges of human rights abuses and branding those who make those charges as enemies of the State.
The second important take-away from the Minister’s comments is her lack of concern that a partner in government may be contemplating removing itself from the coalition. How can a spokesperson of a government and coalition with a tiny majority in the National Assembly not be worried that there is grave dissatisfaction within the coalition? The strength of the coalition is its ‘jointness’. Yet the Minister is saying that she is not worried that one partner is so dissatisfied that some of its leaders are raising the possibility of leaving.
This is precisely what my colleague, Tacuma Ogunseye, is raising as an overriding issue—the scant consideration and respect for WPA’s concerns. Her comments can be read two ways. On the one hand she seems to be suggesting that the WPA is not serious about putting this matter of leaving on the agenda. On that she is very wrong. The matter of leaving has always been on the party’s agenda—from the day we agreed to form the APNU with the PNC. It was suppressed in the interest of the collective and the country. We considered all the benefits and the risks, including the fact that we may at some point have to confront the hard question of leaving. WPA is not as naïve as some people think we are.
The Minister’s lack of worry could also be read as her party’s view that the WPA’s exit would not adversely affect the APNU and the coalition. I know that that simplistic narrative is being peddled in some quarters, that the so-called small parties brought nothing so if they leave it wouldn’t affect the coalition. The coalition won the election in 2015 because a small majority of the electorate perceived that a coalition of parties stood a better chance of defeating the incumbent PPP and returning the country to normalcy.
None of the individual parties—PNC, AFC, WPA or the others—could have achieved that feat on its own. And my knowledge of Guyanese politics tells me that any rupturing of that coalition would work to the disadvantage of the coalition at the next election. It is my view that only a fraction of the coalition’s votes is influenced directly by the individual parties. I am very sure that half of the coalition voters voted for APNU and APNU+AFC. Towards that end I am equally certain that any credible poll would show that the APNU and the coalition are more popular than the individual parties. Guyanese vote race, but they are not stupid.