Dr Jeffrey’s proposal for power sharing is a nonstarter and will be dismissed as utopian intellectualizing
Dear Editor, Dr. Henry Jeffrey’s column: “Future Notes” has over the years established a reputation as being informative, creative and at times, politically challenging. His column published in Stabroek News in the November 7th, 2018 edition, captioned: `Well, David: What now? Sri Lanka?’ has raised the bar in creative politics, beyond what in the context of the Guyanese experience is politically possible.
Dr. Jeffrey, more than any other public commentator, in the post-2015 general and regional elections, must be given credit for his relentless advocacy in reminding the nation and its political leaders that the most important issue which has divided and hindered the economic and social development of the country is yet to be addressed. Constitutional reform, which was an APNU+AFC coalition manifesto commitment is, in Jeffrey’s opinion, achievable. In pursuit of this goal, he took the opportunity to engage Dr. David Hinds’ observations in relation to power sharing in the context of the present dynamic in the APNU+AFC coalition and government. Unlike Hinds, Jeffrey sees a glimmer of hope, which he seeks to bring into fruition by advancing his thought-provoking proposal.
While I agree with his analysis and most of the conclusions I was taken aback by the proposal he advanced to address and correct our unworkable governance system of winner takes all, and to ensure that the APNU+AFC honour its election promise before the end of its mandate in 2020.
Mr. Jeffrey’s proposal is set out here: “Be it only at the local level, now that the parties are for the first time since 2015 individually testing their strength at the polls, the president should utilise the results to reshuffle the government, offering the prime ministership and an agreed upon number of ministers to the party that – apart from his – gains the highest votes at the November 12th local elections. The next largest party, which is most likely to be the AFC, should not be discarded, but in keeping with the coalition campaign promise, the process of electoral reform should immediately begin and end in time for the 2020 general and regional elections.”
In advancing this proposal Dr. Jeffrey must be conscious that he is asking the president to bring about these changes by unilaterally using executive authority, which has been a main contention in the politics of the country, since the introduction of the 1980 constitution. For the president to take such an unwise action outside of a consultative framework, which must include the PPP as well as the APNU’s coalition partners, and the AFC, will expose him to more criticisms of dictatorial behaviour. While the intention of the proposal is in the national interest, to move to implement it without the requisite consultations and agreement will render it politically counterproductive. Since there is no way it can succeed, by the adoption of Jeffrey’s proposed unilateral method, it is likely to do more harm than good to the APNU, the coalition, the African community, and Guyana. In short, it will serve to confirm the historical fears peddled with some measure of effectiveness by the PPP and other detractors of the PNCR, APNU, and coalition, who have sought to equate African lead rule with political dictatorship.
Another problem inherent in the proposal is the squashing of the Cummingsburg agreement that gave rise to the APNU+AFC coalition. Jeffrey, as an afterthought, took care to say that the AFC should not be “discarded” – how to avoid this outcome boggles the mind. Equally important is the logic that the PPP will be interested in such a proposal after a strong showing in the local government elections. Given that party’s position of demonstrating little or no interest in constitution reform, power-sharing and national government, one will be forced to work overtime to find reasons for the PPP to agree to such a proposal. The PPP’s leadership will interpret the proposal as a ploy by Granger, the PNCR and the APNU to save face for what the PPP anticipates will be a poor showing by the coalition parties and defeat at the 2020 election. The PPP will want to remain aloof from such a major political decision with all of its inherent jeopardies including them risking alienating sections of its constituency and a possible rupture of its internal party unity, given their questionable belief that victory in 2020 is assured.
Without trying to put pressure on Dr. Jeffrey I am interested in his reasoning, given the points I have mentioned above. In my attempt to arrive at a meeting of minds with Dr. Jeffrey, I can only conceive of one possible area in which the proposal may be attractive to the PPP. But here again given that party’s apparent paranoia in relation to “Rigged elections” it is difficult to see the PPP rising above this mindset. It can be argued that the PPP, as a significant part of the government, will be better placed to protect its interests and avoid being a victim of what they believe will be electoral rigging in 2020, despite the lack of any evidence they can point to that that is what is intended.
My own judgement is that given the present balance of forces in the PPP and the present perception that the APNU has become the PNCR and the possibility of the collapse of the APNU+AFC coalition for the 2020 general and regional elections – the PPP will take its chances with “winner take all elections” and go to the polls in 2020 with the conviction, as winners they are entitled to take all. Its desire for political domination will prevail over any other consideration.
In closing, given Dr. Jeffrey’s profound knowledge of Guyanese politics and its political players, his proposal amounts to political desperation. “Desperate times require desperate solutions”. In reality, in spite of its good intention, this proposal is a nonstarter. It will be dismissed by both sides as “utopian intellectualizing”. Yours faithfully, Tacuma Ogunseye