The root of the evil

Stabroek News Sunday - - NEWS -

At the event mark­ing the 100th Birth An­niver­sary of Cheddi Ja­gan spon­sored by the Cheddi Ja­gan Re­search Cen­tre, for­mer President Bhar­rat Jagdeo ex­pressed fears that the gen­eral elec­tions due in 2020 will be rigged. President Jagdeo cited the cir­cum­stances lead­ing up to the ap­point­ment of the Chair of the Elec­tions Com­mis­sion, namely, President Granger’s re­jec­tion of three lists of a to­tal of eigh­teen names, and the President’s choice of Jus­tice James Pat­ter­son. President Granger had the au­thor­ity to ap­point a judge, for­mer judge or per­son qual­i­fied to be a judge, if he re­jected the list of the Leader of the Op­po­si­tion on the ground that the names sub­mit­ted were not ac­cept­able to him. It was a con­tro­ver­sial de­par­ture by the President from the for­mula adopted in 1992, which had sub­se­quently re­ceived a con­sti­tu­tional im­pri­matur.

Rigged elec­tions have had a long, known and sor­did his­tory in Guyana. Sur­pris­ingly, in­stead of leav­ing the past be­hind af­ter the re­forms of 1990-1992, it was the PNC that be­came the ac­cuser, al­leg­ing that elec­tions be­tween 1992 and 2006 were rigged. Ob­servers noted that the 40 per cent aver­age it ob­tained from 1992 on­wards, af­ter the large ma­jori­ties be­tween 1968 and 1985 had to be ex­plained. The rig­ging of the elec­tions there­after was the ex­pla­na­tion, jus­ti­fy­ing the large ma­jori­ties. But it might have been the symptom of the deeper eth­nic malaise that af­flicts Guyana, just as the PPP’s claims that the elec­tions of 2011 and 2015, in which it re­ceived sub­stan­tially less votes than be­fore, were rigged against it.

Al­le­ga­tions of elec­tion rig­ging are never go­ing to end in Guyana. This is not to say that there is not the ever-present dan­ger that elec­tions would be rigged. Sus­pi­cions against the PNCR, the real power in the APNU+AFC coali­tion, is never far be­low the sur­face be­cause of its his­tory of elec­tion rig­ging in the past. There is a be­lief that the elec­toral at­trac­tion of the AFC has to­tally col­lapsed and that the coali­tion can­not com­mand more that the votes the PNC/PNCR would nor­mally ob­tain at elec­tions, namely, 42 per cent at max­i­mum. It is be­lieved that the PNC is aware of this pos­si­bil­ity and there­fore the sus­pi­cion has arisen of the like­li­hood of elec­tion rig­ging in 2020.

Be­cause of the ex­is­tence of two large race groups in Guyana, which are in po­lit­i­cal com­pe­ti­tion, de­rived from eco­nomic com­pe­ti­tion for scarce re­sources, elec­toral suc­cess by one group is seen, not merely as a re­versible elec­toral loss. It is seen as dev­as­tat­ing to the po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic se­cu­rity of the other group. With one group in power, it is ac­cepted as fact that dis­crim­i­na­tion and marginal­iza­tion will take place against the other group. One group is al­leged to have eco­nomic power which, cou­pled with po­lit­i­cal power, harms the progress of the other group by dis­crim­i­na­tion. The other group is al­leged to have ad­min­is­tra­tive/bu­reau­cratic/se­cu­rity power, and that with po­lit­i­cal power it dis­crim­i­nates and sup­presses the

Gother group. These nar­ra­tives, whether true or not, have been with us since 1957 – for 60 years. They are not go­ing to go away.

The strug­gle for po­lit­i­cal of­fice, which is nor­mal ev­ery­where else, has an ad­di­tional di­men­sion in Guyana. Since the politics is based in eth­nic com­pe­ti­tion, the strug­gle for po­lit­i­cal of­fice be­comes a strug­gle for eth­nic dom­i­nance. An elec­toral vic­tory is not seen as a vic­tory for the po­lit­i­cal left or the po­lit­i­cal right, or for so­cial democ­racy or lib­eral democ­racy, or for left wing or right wing eco­nomic and po­lit­i­cal poli­cies. It is seen in purely eth­nic terms – which eth­nic group gains dom­i­nance. That is the root of the evil in Guyana’s politics. uyana can­not achieve the eco­nomic progress and the growth of the econ­omy at a suf­fi­ciently rapid rate to deal with the prob­lems of the so­ci­ety un­less this eth­nic com­pe­ti­tion is chan­nelled into con­struc­tive streams and the fears are sub­stan­tially re­duced. Both par­ties know this.

In look­ing to the fu­ture, the im­pact of the oil econ­omy needs to be con­sid­ered. The in­come flow of 500,000 bar­rels of oil a day, or per­haps more, will trans­form the eco­nomic pos­si­bil­i­ties for Guyana. But un­less a po­lit­i­cal so­lu­tion is found to the eth­nic is­sue, no mat­ter which party is in of­fice, the Dutch disease will rapidly over­take Guyana, cor­rup­tion will ex­plode, bad gov­er­nance will con­tinue, the rich will be­come richer, and the poor will have to sat­isfy them­selves with be­ing the left be­hind strag­glers catch­ing the crumbs as labour­ers, semi-skilled work­ers and ser­vice providers at the lower end, ek­ing out

a liveli­hood. Oil wealth will pass them by.

It is a great tragedy that APNU+AFC has aban­doned its man­i­festo prom­ise of con­sti­tu­tional re­form which, with mod­i­fi­ca­tions, would have har­nessed the eth­nic com­pe­ti­tion into con­struc­tive ef­forts and would have, once and for all, elim­i­nated the sus­pi­cions over elec­tions. APNU+AFC had the chance of trans­form­ing Guyana’s econ­omy, politics and so­ci­ety, charg­ing into his­tory as the true builder for which Dr Ptolemy Reid praised Founder Leader Forbes Burn­ham. But in­stead, APNU+AFC has now cho­sen to let his­tory pass it by, seek­ing APNU+AFC, not na­tional so­lu­tions, with a one seat ma­jor­ity, in a coun­try di­vided by a par­ti­san gorge. This gov­ern­ment, re­fus­ing to hon­our its own man­i­festo pledge to the Guyanese peo­ple, will end up as no more than a foot­note in Guyanese his­tory.

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