Po­lit­i­cal op­por­tunism and con­sti­tu­tional re­form

Stabroek News Sunday - - REGIONAL NEWS -

Guyana’s main po­lit­i­cal par­ties will only be in­ter­ested in con­sti­tu­tional re­form to trans­form our ethno-po­lit­i­cal sys­tem if a suf­fi­ciently large por­tion of the elec­torate de­mands it. Con­sider the fol­low­ing: In free and fair elec­tions, the PPP will ob­tain ei­ther the votes of the ma­jor­ity or of a plu­ral­ity be­cause the In­dian Guyanese pop­u­la­tion is the largest sin­gle block. The PNCR will ob­tain the sec­ond largest num­ber of votes be­cause African Guyanese are the sec­ond largest block.

In the nor­mal sit­u­a­tion, with con­sti­tu­tional re­form and with­out a coali­tion in the run­ning, the PPP will win the pres­i­dency and the PNCR will win the prime min­is­ter­ship. The AFC, if it con­tests alone, will not ob­tain 15 per­cent of the votes to qual­ify for a share in the govern­ment. With con­sti­tu­tional re­form, the PPP will have to share the govern­ment and the PNCR will be rel­e­gated to a ju­nior part­ner­ship. The po­ten­tial rel­e­ga­tion of the PNCR to sec­ond place and, in these cir­cum­stances, the po­lit­i­cal demise of the AFC, are the po­lit­i­cally op­por­tunis­tic rea­sons why the cam­paign prom­ise of con­sti­tu­tional re­form by APNU+AFC is not be­ing kept. The PPP, which be­lieves that it will win a ma­jor­ity in 2020 or later is not in­ter­ested in shar­ing the govern­ment at any time. In a con­test in 2020 be­tween the PPP and APNU+AFC, the out­come is uncertain, but with con­sti­tu­tional re­form, power will be shared. One will be the se­nior part­ner and hold the pres­i­dency and one will be the ju­nior part­ner and hold the prime min­is­ter­ship. Since nei­ther is pre­pared to play a ju­nior role, con­sti­tu­tional re­form is un­palat­able to both.

Up to 1991, Cheddi Ja­gan re­peat­edly promised that con­sti­tu­tional re­form would be en­acted to im­ple­ment “shared gov­er­nance,” which he some­times re­ferred to as the “win­ner does not take all sys­tem.” Whether it was PPP tri­umphal­ism or oth­er­wise, with the pass­ing of Cheddi Ja­gan, the lofty prin­ci­ples on con­sti­tu­tional re­form had de­gen­er­ated into a drive to main­tain dom­i­nance by the pe­riod of con­sti­tu­tional re­form in 19992000. In the gen­eral elec­tions of 2011, the PPP lost its ab­so­lute ma­jor­ity but main­tained a plu­ral­ity and was there­fore en­ti­tled to the pres­i­dency and to form a govern­ment. The PPP did not even con­tem­plate invit­ing the APNU or the AFC or both to join the mi­nor­ity govern­ment or to work out a modus vivendi which would have in­volved po­lit­i­cal con­ces­sions, so that its mi­nor­ity govern­ment would have some kind of sta­bil­ity – as would oc­cur any­where else in the world.

The dis­play of such short­sight­ed­ness in 2011 by the PPP might be mys­ti­fy­ing. But that is the in­flu­ence of eth­nic­ity in pol­i­tics at work. It makes ra­tio­nal peo­ple do crazy things. It pre­cludes se­ri­ous po­lit­i­cal con­ces­sions. If sense and states­man­ship had pre­vailed within the PPP lead­er­ship, Don­ald Ramo­tar would have been Pres­i­dent un­til next year. By in­cred­u­lously ex­pect­ing, in a highly charged and volatile po­lit­i­cal environment as Guyana’s, that the Op­po­si­tion would be per­suaded to sup­port a mi­nor­ity govern­ment, the PPP and its lead­er­ship lost the op­por­tu­nity to ma­te­ri­ally con­trib­ute to pol­icy de­vel­op­ment for the oil in­dus­try and is now merely flail­ing on the side­lines.

Smelling blood in 2015 by virtue of the PPP’s loss in 2011 and its fail­ure to pur­sue a po­lit­i­cal so­lu­tion, the AFC ditched its ‘dead meat’ po­si­tion, namely, that if it joined with APNU in a coali­tion to con­test elec­tions against the PPP, it would be­come dead meat. It signed the Cum­mings­burg Ac­cord, joined with APNU in pre­sent­ing a joint slate, and won the elec­tions. The cer­tainty of the In­dian vote, pre­cluded the de­vel­op­ment of a win­ning strat­egy for an elec­torate, weary af­ter twenty-three years of PPP gov­er­nance. The ‘dawn of a new era’ and twenty-eight years of PNC rule’ of 1992 no longer had trac­tion. A new strat­egy for the times, the elim­i­na­tion of the ‘win­ner take all’ gov­er­nance struc­ture could po­ten­tially have saved the PPP. In­stead the APNU+AFC pro­posed it and it pow­ered them to of­fice.

It is very likely that the same sense of tri­umphal­ism now grips APNU’s con­scious­ness. As in the PPP, this would have al­ready been trans­formed into the de­sire for dom­i­nance that shat­tered the PPP’s his­tory of pro­mot­ing a ‘po­lit­i­cal so­lu­tion’ from the 1970s on­wards.

Politi­cians are driven by the logic of eth­nic pol­i­tics where it ex­ists. In Guyana, the ‘suc­cess­ful’ par­ties, the PPP and APNU, are those that fol­low the logic. All oth­ers have failed or are in the process, although a party ded­i­cated to con­sti­tu­tional re­form can make im­pact­ful in­roads. This is be­cause in con­di­tions such as Guyana’s there are peo­ple who con­stantly seek out ways and means by which this eth­nic logic can be ame­lio­rated for the ben­e­fit of all by struc­tural, con­sti­tu­tional com­pro­mises. Some­times these de­bates and strug­gles go on for years, decades or even gen­er­a­tions, while the politi­cians go their merry way, fight­ing end­less bat­tles in ethno-po­lit­i­cal war­fare, with no eth­nic group ever se­cur­ing stable dom­i­nance over the other and with one half of the pop­u­la­tion in per­ma­nent dis­af­fec­tion. Where dom­i­nance pre­vails, leav­ing a large mi­nor­ity as a per­pet­ual out­sider, in­sta­bil­ity, dis­af­fec­tion, poverty, in­equity or vi­o­lence even­tu­ally cre­ates gov­er­nance dif­fi­cul­ties which are re­solved by au­thor­i­tar­ian rule. A sig­nif­i­cant sec­tion of the elec­torate can be mo­bilised to seek a po­lit­i­cal, con­sti­tu­tional so­lu­tion, which has been be­fore the elec­torate for forty years.

This col­umn is re­pro­duced, with per­mis­sion, from Ralph Ramkar­ran’s blog, www.con­ver­sa­tion­tree.gy

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