Feb 10, 2019
My column two weeks ago—before the Chief Justice’s rulings– argued that the Coalition was outmaneuvering the PPP. The argument was premised on a simple truth—the coalition was achieving its objective of remaining in power beyond the 90-day constitutional stipulation without triggering a large-scale political crisis.
Since that column, the Chief Justice has ruled against the Coalition, but the government has remained in place. While the PPP and some independent actors continue to call for the government to go and for elections to be held within the constitutionally mandated timeframe, the government remains firmly in place.
In addition to the court ruling, the big change since that column has been the Coalition’s launch of its overt election campaign. I had made the point that the government’s rolling out new initiatives almost every day is a form of covert electioneering, but up till then there was no direct election campaigning by the coalition parties as parties. That has now changed. The Coalition launched its campaign committee, with the leader himself being designated the campaign leader.
Government Ministers are now all over the country shaking hands and mingling with the people. The advantage of this for the Coalition is that they get two bites as the cherry —while they are on the trail, they are performing both in the capacity of party leaders and government ministers.
This is a massive about turn for a group of politicians which I have described as the most aloof in Guyana’s modern political history. Very early in the life of the government I had called on members to not govern just from Georgetown, but to go out into the communities and engage in a permanent conversation. My February 17, 2017 column in the Guyana Chronicle was titled “The Parking Meter Fiasco and the Arrogance of Power-stop being arrogant and ‘rap’ to your people.” They organized a couple of “Government Days” at the Square of the Revolution and that was that.
A quotation from another column published on December 6, 2016, titled “Government accessibility to its supporters,” is worth remembering: “We live in a small society, where high Government officials can be seen driving around the place; so, when accessibility becomes a problem, there must be something deeper at play. I have heard, for example, from coalition supporters and members, of their not being able to secure audiences with ministers. Many complain that those with ready access to ministers and Government jobs were nowhere to be seen during the “hard guava days.” They complain that party members who were in the trenches taking blows for 23 years are now being sidelined and ignored, while the new “big wigs” are running things, often with an attitude of entitlement. While I do not know the extent of this problem, I know that it exists. I am against giving people jobs simply because they belong to the governing coalition; but it is quite human and normal for people who sacrificed for a cause to expect to be rewarded in some form when the success of that cause comes in the form of office. The issue of neglect is real, even if in some instances it’s exaggerated.”
Those observations were seen as “criticisms” by Government Ministers and soon my column was removed from the Chronicle and I was branded an enemy of the Coalition. So, now that the ministers are out there with the people, I am vindicated. The downside of this exercise by the Ministers is that some people may be cynical about these “walkabouts”—that it is all about electioneering and not any genuine love for the people. But, for the sake of those government supporters who have invested so much in the government, I hope it is not a case of “too little too late.”
I think we are likely to see more goodies for the masses. Gas prices have been reduced. We are going to see more contracts given to contractors who will deliver jobs to the government constituency. More infrastructural work would be done in mostly Coalition-friendly communities. The Guyana Teachers’ Union has skillfully raised their wages matter again and I think the response from the government would be more positive than before.
Government is going to make-up with the vendors. Party leaders are already on the ground whispering apologies to some communities. Money that the government couldn’t find a mere three months ago would be found. The challenge for the Coalition is whether this use of government to steer resources to supporters would turn-off independent voters, especially Indian Guyanese Independents.
As much as the Opposition and advocates of good governance would rail against these moves, I think there is not much that would be done to stop the train. Should the PPP make any aggressive moves such as massive demonstrations, it would play into the government’s hands. The PPP would be branded as troublemakers—already Jagdeo’s rhetoric is being blamed for the bomb threats and instances of violence. And in the end, it would help the Coalition gain more time. The PPP is in a no-win situation.
The other jewel in the Coalition’s hand is GECOM. At the end of the day, GECOM is not controlled by the PPP—the tables have turned. The GECOM timeline with or without new house-to-house registration would put elections in July-August at the earliest. The clock will start running when the GECOM machinery gets the go-ahead. The Coalition is sitting pretty.
But even as I say the above, one can still see some clumsiness on the Coalition’s part. Winston Jordan’s comment to a Black audience – that wages don’t and won’t make them rich and that they should go into business – is the kind of neo-liberal economics talk that has no place in the Coalition’s narrative. Instead, tell them Winston, that in an oil and gas economy that is driven by people-centered policies, they could earn a living wage that would improve their standard of living and guarantee them some extra money that could be invested in small business.
That Coalition picket in front of GECOM was nonsensical. The person who came up with that idea should be banished from the campaign. The last thing the Coalition wants is for the PPP to say that GECOM was pressured by the PNC to have a house-to-house operation. Leave GECOM alone.
Despite being outmaneuvered, the PPP continues to dominate the news. The reason is two-fold. First, the Coalition has lost the sympathy of the independent media and it is yet to devise a strategy to woo them back. Second and most importantly, the Coalition is not making news—that is what the media sell.
To make news, you must have newsmakers and you must have something politically sensible to say. I am afraid that the DPI stories and Chronicle editorials don’t fall into that category. And clearly some Ministers are not newsmakers. While the utterings of Government ministers are being dressed up and pumped up in the lowly circulated Chronicle, Jagdeo is getting two or three top stories per day in the highly circulated Kaieteur and Stabroek, in addition to his ten in the Guyana Times. To paraphrase calypsonian, Chalkdust: “Somebody up in Congress Place mad.”
Now, back to the big picture. The Coalition has appealed the Chief Justice’s ruling. I think those rulings were as fair as they come. After close examination of both the letter and the spirit of the law, I don’t see how any shrewd judge could have come to a different conclusion. And it is against that background that I would be surprised if the higher courts strike down her rulings. I have some sympathy for the arguments in favour of 34 being a majority, but in the end, I think it failed the test of “the spirit” of law.
I do not think the government expected to win those cases in the High Court and expects to win in the higher courts. It is then clear to me that the challenge to the No-confidence Vote is the use of the legal system for political ends—the Coalition wants to remain in office for as long as possible, so that it could use that time and space to do what it should have done in the previous three years. The big question is whether this amounts to abuse of the system and whether it is a violation of the constitution.
More of Dr. Hinds’ writings and commentaries can be found on his YouTube Channel Hinds’ Sight: Dr. David Hinds’ Guyana-Caribbean Politics and on his website www.guyanacaribbeanpolitics.news. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org