Which fork in the road will the AFC take?

Stabroek News Sunday - - REGIONAL NEWS -

At the Ge­orge­town may­oral elec­tions on Novem­ber 30, AFC Coun­cil­lor Michael Leonard was nom­i­nated by his lone col­league. Hav­ing only two mem­bers, no one sec­onded the nom­i­na­tion and it was de­clared to be in­valid. This event, em­bar­rass­ing for the AFC, sym­bol­ises the de­cline from its hey­day in 2005, when Raphael Trot­man, Khem­raj Ram­jat­tan and Sheila Holder, all MPs rep­re­sent­ing the three par­ties rep­re­sented in the Na­tional Assem­bly - the PNCR, the PPP and the WPA de­cided to es­tab­lish the AFC. There was great an­tic­i­pa­tion by many who had be­come jaded with the main po­lit­i­cal par­ties, the PPP and the PNCR. Adding to the ex­pec­ta­tion was the fact that the land­scape was arid. The WPA, the last party of sig­nif­i­cance that had at­tracted a de­gree of pop­u­lar sup­port, had been es­tab­lished in 1974. How­ever, by the time free and fair elec­tions re­turned in 1992, it had lost trac­tion and failed to achieve sig­nif­i­cant elec­toral sup­port. It ob­tained 2.4 per­cent at the 2001 elec­tions, which it con­tested with the Guyana Ac­tion Party. The TUF, which was es­tab­lished in 1960, ob­tained 16 per­cent sup­port at the 1961 elec­tions. Re­turn­ing at the 1980, af­ter an ab­sence dur­ing the 1970s, it could only per­suade 2.9 per­cent of the elec­torate to sup­port it. At the lo­cal gov­ern­ment elec­tions re­cently held, the AFC se­cured only 3.9 per­cent sup­port, af­ter hav­ing ob­tained 10 per­cent in the 2011 gen­eral elec­tions.

The AFC is at a fork in the road. Logic would sug­gest that it should take the bend lead­ing to in­de­pen­dence. Ne­ces­sity for sur­vival, as the AFC would per­ceive it, would force it to take the bend lead­ing to fur­ther sub­servience to APNU. At the time when the AFC was es­tab­lished, the na­ture of the Guyanese elec­torate was chang­ing. The de­crease in the In­dian pop­u­la­tion and the growth of the Amerindian and Mixed pop­u­la­tions, to­gether with the dom­i­nance of eth­nic con­sid­er­a­tions in pol­i­tics, were hav­ing an im­pact on vot­ing pat­terns. Most im­por­tant, the mid­dle class, which had been dec­i­mated by im­pov­er­ish­ment and mi­gra­tion in the 1970s and 1980s, had grown again and was im­pa­tient with eth­nic pol­i­tics and in­suf­fi­ciently ro­bust eco­nomic growth, which was pos­si­ble as the lat­ter Hoyte and early Ja­gan years had shown. The eco­nomic ben­e­fits which were later avail­able to busi­ness did not reach the rungs of emerg­ing en­trepreneurs, while they saw favoured ones ben­e­fit­ting hand­somely from ‘con­nec­tions.’

In these con­di­tions, the AFC ob­tained 8 per­cent of the votes in 2006 and 10 per­cent in 2011. When it joined with APNU un­der the terms of the Cum­mings­burg Ac­cord in 2015, there was much re­joic­ing among APNU and AFC sup­port­ers, as well as those who be­lieved that the PPP/C had run its course. In gov­ern­ing, the coali­tion promptly aban­doned its main promise of con­sti­tu­tional re­form to lead to in­clu­sive gov­er­nance and, like the PPP/C be­fore it, re­fer­ring to its PPP and Civic al­liance, bap­tized its elec­toral con­trivance of APNU+AFC as in­clu­sive gov­er­nance. Both the APNU and AFC also promptly for­got that they rode to power on a heavy sprin­kling of sup­port from per­sons who had been vot­ing for the PPP in the past and that they scram­bled to of­fice by one seat, which ought to have dic­tated soft, moder­ate and in­clu­sive steps. The ar­ro­gance that gov­ern­men­tal be­stows took lit­tle time to emerge.

The al­liance was done in mainly by the fal­ter­ing econ­omy. With the de­cline in pro­duc­tion in the main sec­tors, APNU+AFC ini­ti­ated poli­cies which sucked con­sump­tion out of the econ­omy and de­ployed it for un­pro­duc­tive ac­tiv­ity, in­stead of even more fully in­cen­tivis­ing con­sump­tion and re­lax­ing hin­drances to busi­ness ac­tiv­ity. The elec­torate has re­belled, as the lo­cal gov­ern­ment elec­tions’ re­sults have demon­strated. But the AFC has also been seen as ag­gres­sively sup­port­ive of APNU+AFC poli­cies which the PPP is deathly afraid of, such as what the PPP be­lieves are moves to ma­nip­u­late the next gen­eral elec­tions. The PPP sup­port­ers who the AFC had en­cour­aged to cross over have now moved away be­cause the AFC now ap­pears not as a mod­er­at­ing in­flu­ence on APNU (PNCR), but as a fa­cil­i­ta­tor. The AFC has been un­able to per­suade APNU that it has only a one-seat ma­jor­ity which it needs to sus­tain. The PNC, in all of its man­i­fes­ta­tions, has not been able to ob­tain more than 42 per­cent of the sup­port of the elec­torate in its his­tory. With the AFC’s 4 per­cent at the gen­eral elec­tions, if it re­mains the same, the coali­tion will not at­tain that magic num­ber of 50 per­cent plus 1. This opens up to the PPP and many oth­ers ter­ri­fy­ing pos­si­bil­i­ties of what will hap­pen in 2020, with the AFC’s si­lence or ac­tive con­nivance, as its present pos­ture in­di­cates.

Tac­ti­cal fac­tors, such as per­haps in­ter­nal dis­sat­is­fac­tion by APNU sup­port­ers at the ‘give­away’ in the Cum­mings­burg Ac­cord, rather than the strate­gic ne­ces­sity of con­tin­ued elec­toral suc­cess, may have been al­lowed by APNU to re­ject the AFC de­mands for the lo­cal gov­ern­ment elec­tions. The short-sighted strat­egy of sub­servience rather than ro­bust, open, de­bate sug­gests con­nivance and sub­servience by the AFC, rather than part­ner­ship. Above all, the fail­ure to ob­serve its prom­ises over con­sti­tu­tional re­form is an im­por­tant fac­tor. All these have con­trib­uted to the fall of the AFC, un­til now, un­less it takes the more dif­fi­cult turn beck­oned by the other fork in the road.

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