Schisms in the coalition will only get larger

Dear Editor,

Long before it assumed the reins of government, I have argued that the authoritarianism which permeates the ideology and realpolitik of the People’s National Congress (PNC) would prevent it from co-existing amicably or equitably in any coalition. This is so because authoritarianism by its very nature and definition seeks domination, if not monopoly, over power at the expense of democratic notions, principles and processes.

Many felt that its long exile in opposition along with its ostensible attempts at ‘reform’ would have allowed introspection and consequently, a democratized PNC would have emerged. There is an overwhelming volume of evidence available from its performance in government since 2015, that would establish beyond doubt that this grouping of persons are hopelessly wrong. I have repeatedly highlighted and documented a constellation of instances and incidents of naked authoritarianism, vulgar disregard for the Constitution and crass undemocratic actions by the PNC in government since 2015.

Therefore, for me, it was always clear that the coalition would not work in the manner contemplated by the coalition partners, other than the PNC. I always knew that the PNC would dominate the coalition at all costs, and all pre-coalition accords and agreements would be rendered as meaningless as the paper upon which they are scribed. And, so it has been since May 2015, getting progressively worse with each passing year. Unsurprisingly, in less than three years, the Alliance For Change (AFC) and its leaders have been reduced to virtual political rubber stamps, and the other major coalition partner, the Working People’s Alliance (WPA), is currently, publicly, speculating whether they should continue to remain in the coalition. The representatives of the tiny Justice For All Party (JFAP) and the National Front Alliance (NFA) have been reduced to nothing more than moot back-benchers in Parliament, with ministerial portfolios that are devoid of any serious functional responsibilities.

Firstly, it is public knowledge that Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo has been overseas on medical leave for over a month. By virtue of the Cum-mingsburg Accord, the prime ministerial portfolio was assigned to the AFC. One would have expected that in accordance with the letter and spirit of that Accord, if the AFC’s designated person, in this case, Mr Nagamootoo, is unable to act as prime minister, then another AFC person ought to have been appointed to act in his stead. That person should be Mr Khemraj Ramjattan, the second highest-ranking member of the AFC in the coalition government. How-ever, this has not been the case. Mr Carl Greenidge has been appointed to act as prime minister, and only in Mr Greenidge’s absence, was Mr Ramjattan appointed to act as prime minister.

I am cognizant of the fact that the argument which would be quickly advanced, is that the second Vice President must be accorded priority over the third Vice President, to act as prime minister. This argument would only be attractive to the apologists. In the absence of the substantive prime minister, the Constitution gives the president free rein to appoint any minister to act in that office. The PNC was quick to invoke the Constitution in denying Mr Nagamootoo chairmanship of the Cabinet, as was agreed upon in the Cummingsburg Accord. That very Constitution can now be used to ensure compliance with the Cummingsburg Accord, so that Mr Ramjattan can be appointed by the president to act as prime minister in the absence of Mr Nagamootoo and there will be no constitutional hurdle to overcome. However, the authoritarian nature of the PNC dictates that it dominates every available political space in the coalition. The AFC has been so politically degutted that they cannot muster the courage to even whimper in protest.

Secondly, the AFC candidate for deputy mayor of the City of Georgetown was not even permitted to enter into the elections to contest the position a week ago. The PNC Councillors used their majority to close nominations after a PNC Councillor was nominated for the position of deputy mayor. This shameless grab for total power by the PNC at City Hall, was witnessed by former AFC General Secretary, David Patterson.  A few days thereafter, the AFC leader, Raphael Trotman, jetted off with the President to attend a Water Conference in Brazil, which appears to be wholly unconnected to his ministerial portfolio.

Thirdly, as if Dr Rupert Roopnaraine’s demotion from Minister of Education to the head of some nondescript department within the government bureaucracy on the death anniversary of Dr Walter Rodney was not enough, two weeks ago, we witnessed the vulgar expulsion of the WPA’s second most prominent leader, Dr David Hinds, from the Chronicle newspaper as a weekly columnist. Dr Hinds’s writings were acidly critical of the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) and comparably, mildly critical of the government. However, authoritarianism brooks no criticism. So, Dr Hinds had to go. So did Mr Lincoln Lewis, another relentless critic of the PPP and ally of the government, who deluded himself into believing that he can be critical of a PNC government in the Chronicle.

For several months, the WPA leadership has been complaining publicly about the contempt with which they have been treated by the PNC in government. They are now, publicly, considering whether they should continue to be part of the coalition. The WPA comes from a rich history and legacy of struggle against the PNC dictatorship of the ʼ70s and ʼ80s. Their founder, Dr Walter Rodney, paid the ultimate price. Many of them, including Drs Hinds and Roopnaraine, were brutalized, shot at and wrongfully imprisoned during those years. Why they now express surprise at the treatment meted out to them by the same PNC must be bewildering to the average Guyanese, equipped with the historical facts. It is reminiscent of the fable of the frog and the scorpion crossing the river. But, I suppose ethnicity and politics trumped reason, principles and historical experience.

In closing, I cannot help but recollect the famous words of George Santayana, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”. As for the coalition, the schisms to which I have alluded will only get larger with each passing day. It is the natural order of things. Even Freddie Kissoon has grudgingly conceded that we are witnessing the “creeping dictatorship.”

Yours faithfully,
Mohabir Anil Nandlall, MP

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