Political leadership and national stability: All are involved, all are consumed

By Eusi Kwayana

Is there any doubt that political leadership in Guyana as in other countries like Venezuela, Britain, India, Pakistan, Congo and Nigeria needs to be born again? I am closer to the situation in Guyana. A no confidence motion is nothing vicious – the traditional no confidence motion of December purported to end the Coalition, elected with its one seat majority in 2015. The Court of Appeal decision of last Friday is now subject to a final judicial hearing before the Caribbean Court of Justice by the parties concerned. In 2011, the one seat majority of the PPP/C dodged this procedure by not following an important parliamentary convention. Using statecraft, it avoided debate and instead prorogued the parliament without explanation for an uncomfortably long period. That government was defeated in 2015 by a coalition with another one-seat majority. There were voices arguing that sections of the electorate had voted for their respective comfort zones and that the only way under the constitution to make it into a national consensus was to appoint an all-party cabinet from among the elected members. As Mr. Ralph Ramkarran expressed it, “the winners did not go that route,” although it was allowed by the Constitution. After the rejection of the idea by the PPP in 2011, those voices could not, upon their defeat in 2015, join an appeal for a national government. Both governments had the opportunity to begin constitutional reform (moreso the PPP who were in power for 23 years), but they operated under the deeply held view that what matters is not constitution, but who is in power, and they both blew it because of their belief in and acceptance of winner take-all politics.

It is now left to the statecraft and statesmanship of the two vanguard parties to intelligently employ anything in the Constitution that can be invoked in favour of stability and in the national interest. Unless they take this approach there will be damaging tensions in the society. It is well known that uncertainty and tension are good campaigners for these two vanguard parties as elections approach. Tensions produce “the gateway of fear,” as detected by an observer from India following Guyana’s 1964 election.

Political tension in a partly communal situation makes comfort zones more necessary for communities of voters. Sociology teaches us that a people become socialized to accept these divisions or preferences as normal.

In 1987, at a time when it was more effective, the Working People’s Alliance had a motion for national dialogue passed unanimously in the National Assembly, the country’s highest forum. It was meant to bring political parties and all social forces together to discuss and resolve long standing issues and conflicts facing the people. In answer to the motion, President Hoyte organized the dialogue and Dr. Jagan made the first speech, after which the hardliners in the then ruling party undermined the process, resulting in a Presidential declaration that elections would not be part of the dialogue. As a result of this failure the country had to be tutored from outside by the Carter Center.

Today, some psychologists remind us about the human brain with its right side and left side. They say that the right side is more concerned with what they call the big picture and that the left is more concerned with calculation and the self not with the big picture. Some go as far as to call the right side feminine and the left side masculine. Victory of a certain kind and power are seen as the impulses of the left side. It has been said that the state is the “individual writ large.” If this is so then the same right brain left brain arrangement will apply to political parties including vanguard parties. It may be that our political organizations and leaderships need to nurture more feminine principles than the hard-line approach of victory and defeat.

Almost anyone will agree that with the promise of oil revenues and with all the exploration itself, the population needs to secure its cultural and psychological defences. This is not an attempt to advise the vanguard parties about what to do, but a public expression of the essential needs of the people.  Regarding the revelation of the fact that many members of parliament with dual citizenship have apparently been in breach of the constitution, my view is that this non-compliance took place without guilty intent. Legal experts should be consulted regarding the non-compliance and the appropriateness of an act of validation, used by all states to make past illegality legal with retroactive effect. In 2001 Justice Claudette Singh handed down a decision declaring the elections of 1997 or part of it ultra vires the constitution. The ruling was subject to what some legal experts found did not nullify the elections. Many observers waited for the PPP led parliament to introduce legislation validating that illegality. Apparently, those in office did not consider this trifle a matter worth any remedy.

Guyana has legal resources capable of pronouncing more helpfully on these matters, but as Guyanese, we have a voice in the public arena and should not fail to use it. The political leadership, the media and the public, including voters, are concerned.  In this tense situation, it will be helpful and constructive if the media make their resources available to wide ranging conversations in the open, whether they are partisan, inter-partisan, or of a multi-party nature, including the involvement of civic and nonparty segments of the population with experts and constitutional institutions ultimately and effectively playing their assigned roles. In this age of oil and oil revenues, in the words of Martin Carter, “all are involved, all are consumed.”

At this stage it is important for as many of our people as possible to be aware of the long road we have travelled in seeking freedom and a place of dignity and influence in the political and social system. Many forebears, for good or ill, have left their stamp on what the society has become. Quamina in 1834 was sacrificed because he detected the falsity of the emancipation proclamation. Hubert Nathaniel Critchlow, Ayube Edun and others initiated the organization of the working population and helped them lift themselves from the lowest depths. Gertie Wood was an early and passionate defender of women’s rights and an outspoken advocate of equitable conditions of work. Nearly four decades later, Halliman was dragged out of the canefields and beaten for her determination to protest for proper working conditions. Bechu was an apostle of total freedom, not crippled by leadership office, and the most articulate and inclusive of the anti-indenture activists. Cheddi Jagan made the widest possible cross-section of the Guyanese population aware of the workings of exploitation. Stephen Campbell was a pioneer elected representative of the Indigenous Peoples, who spoke independently on their behalf. Peter D’Aguiar taught the gospel of investment by means of a joint stock company involving wide cross-sections of Guyanese.  Forbes Burnham left his mark in the area of ownership and control and state power. Like Bechu decades before him, Walter Rodney was not a lawmaker but left us with a more and more relevant advisory of “People’s Power No Dictator,” applicable to all associations of people.

The general population as individuals and groups should feel free to select from all of these resources, what appears best in our present dilemma. With all the complexities and uncertainties of modern life in all countries, the quest for people’s power in all departments of public life is more and more relevant.

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