There are frequent, frustrated, refrains from observers that it is Guyana’s political parties that are mainly responsible for promoting the culture of ethnic dominance and without it, Guyana’s politics would not be dominated by race and instability. This is not true. Guyana’s main political parties reflect the social, economic and political aspirations of the people of Guyana. The fundamental feature of Guyana which determines these aspirations is its ethnic composition and history. This has been characterized mainly by separate struggles against employers and the colonial state for survival. The lesson that has been learnt is that whoever controls the state controls the distribution of its limited resources. The struggle for control of the state was a natural outcome of the nature of our main political parties and their fundamental, though unspoken political objective ‒ ethno-political dominance.
By the time the first popular political party, the Peoples’ Progressive Party (PPP), emerged, it was recognized that ethno-political dominance, which had already reared its head after the Second World War, was a negative phenomenon that will hinder Guyana’s political development and its main objective of Independence from Britain. The PPP was therefore organized with a multi-ethnic, multi-class, leadership. It attracted widespread support. However, as is well known, colonialist intrigues and internal opportunism led to what was in effect a departure of the ‘moderate’ faction of the PPP. That faction later became the African led Peoples’ National Congress (PNC) which got its support mainly from the African Guyanese workers and farmers. Its merger shortly after with the United Democratic Party (UDP) brought support from mixed Guyanese and the African middle class. Indian Guyanese gave their support to the PPP.
The large majority of the Guyanese electorate reflect a desire for ethnic security in their electoral choices. They see policies which are designed to ensure that security by the political party holding office, if they do not support it, as ‘discrimination’ and marginalization. When one party loses office and the other succeeds, the cycle is repeated.
After sixty years of this pattern, aggravated by undemocratic rule, violence, corruption and economic stagnation, it is no surprise that strong and persistent voices have emerged which are opposed to “racial voting.” Guyana may have seen some temporary alleviation of “racial voting” but no fundamental departure from its hold on the major part of the electorate, which appears quite comfortable in supporting parties which it believes will protect its ethnic interest.
Much public discourse has been taking place as to how to fashion a political system that accepts the will of the electorate, whichever political party may ‘win’ at any one time, while at the same time minimizing the impact of the culture of ethno-political dominance. There are three problems to resolve, namely, persuading the parties to negotiate an end to the culture of ethno-political
dominance; if they refuse, carrying out a political struggle to encourage them to accept such a course; and agreeing to the constitutional formulations that will be put into effect.
At the moment, both main political parties formally reject the politics of ethno-political dominance but in practice recognize its importance to their political survival. They pay lip service to constitutional reform but do nothing about it. It appears therefore that for those who believe that the end of the culture of ethno-political dominance is a pre-requisite for Guyana’s progress, then a political struggle would have to be carried out to encourage the political parties to accept such a course. Does such a struggle have a reasonable chance of success?
Guyana’s political landscape is changing and new possibilities now exist. The mixed middle class is now 19 per cent and it has within it a large contingent which is opposed to the ‘racial politics’ of the two main parties. It is this group, together with disaffected PPP and PNC supporters which gave the Alliance for Change (AFC) its oxygen. The failure of the AFC to bridge the racial gap in politics as promised, or to influence APNU in any way, much less implementing constitutional reform, has signalled the end of the AFC’s influence in the coalition and its electoral support.
Guyana now needs a new political party which will seek the support of the groups that the AFC has disappointed. It should have one of two objectives, namely, to win the support of the majority of the electorate and if not, to bring the support of both of the main political parties to below 50 per cent. If such a party gains an absolute majority, it will form a national unity government. If not, it will never join a government of either of the main parties and will provide all the necessary guarantees to the public that it will not do so. It will, however, give its support to that party which supports constitutional reform to bring about the end of the culture of ethno-political dominance as well as other economic and social policies that have national consensus.
Developments since the AFC’s abandonment of its agenda of bridging the racial gap has proved that there still exists that critical mass of voters who continue to be motivated by the desire to eradicate from Guyana’s politics the deleterious effects of the culture of ethno-political domination.