Kaieteur News

The ethnic security dilemmas and power sharing

By  stabroek news feb 10, 2019

By now everyone is aware the Chief Justice ruled that the no-confidence vote stands. This means, according to the constitution, the Cabinet must resign and enable elections to be held in ninety days. However, President Granger made it clear at Vreed-en-Hoop that he will not do so anytime soon. The APNU+AFC commissioners on the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) have all signalled they have no intention of allowing elections within the constitutionally required timeframe. The old protagonists from the destabilisation period from 1998 are back, with one in particular claiming the voters list has 120,000 dead people. The PNCR is protesting GECOM to hold house-to-house registration, while the PPP/C is protesting for elections within the ninety-day period.

Furthermore, the government’s increase of the threshold of restricted tendering is clearly meant to distribute economic resources to its base. This means some other groups have to lose since resources are not infinite. The question that arises is why the PNCR and its AFC stragglers can do this? Why the PPP/C would not have been able to do something of this nature? The answer goes back to the theories of the ethnic security dilemmas (ESDs), which I outlined in three recent columns.

The idea of the security dilemma was first proposed in 1951 to explain the security strategy of one country versus another. However, in the early 1990s it was applied by scholars to study ethnic conflict within a country. When the security dilemma is applied to intra-country ethnic conflict, the name is changed to the ethnic security dilemma. Ravi Dev and Baytoram Ramharack have argued since 1990 that there are two ESDs in Guyana and not a single dilemma. There is an African security dilemma and an Indian security dilemma. I have argued that these two dilemmas are co-determined by economic security concerns.

In a 2007 paper titled “Governance in an ethnically divided society: the case of Guyana,” Aubrey Norton mentions it this way: “the ethnic security dilemma increases because political power has been treated as a zero-sum game.” Norton further argues that for Africans to have their share of economic resources, their leaders must be part of executive power sharing. David Hinds made the same point over the years and he repeated it two weeks ago when he criticised the PPP/C’s plan to present several African Guyanese in its election team.

Researchers who apply the security dilemma to understanding the roots of ethnic conflict note that there must be enabling and self-help conditions. This means that since the people cannot trust the government to be fair and to protect their security interests (physical and I argue economic), they take actions into their own hands. Taking action into their own hands in Guyana often implies largely voting along ethnic lines – about 85% of population, according to data I have seen. It also involves finding ways to undermine explicitly or implicitly the party which wins the election. The crucial problem facing the PPP/C and Mr. Jagdeo is he does not have symmetric power to undermine the government of the day once the PPP/C is in opposition.

The PNC/R demonstrated this asymmetry of power in 1998 when it effectively destabilized the PPP/C government and forced it to cut its term in government by two years. The PPP/C, for its part, never thought that the constitution should be changed for accommodating and incentivizing power sharing. The Jagdeo PPP believes only in electoral politics. I believe Jagdeo has miscalculated in a big way because his inner circle does not understand the predictive power of the ESDs. Guyana is not a homogenous country; therefore, electoral politics of the type in Britain, Canada or Japan cannot be applied to Guyana.

Electoral politics raises an enabling condition of the African security dilemma. That is, given the slight numerical advantage of Indians, the PNCR is unlikely to win a free and fair election unless it can form pre-election alliances with third parties and respect those parties. The fact that the PNCR has disrespected its coalition partners, particularly its East Indian component, in a major way implies that the hardliners have taken over. The hardliners are signalling the self-help condition in which the PNCR is not interested in electoral politics anymore. Don’t let the smiling face of President Granger mislead you. Several researchers, such as David Hinds, Cedric Grant and others have written about the hardliners versus moderates inside the PNCR. The hardliners have always pointed out: “we told you so.” The Burnham constitution is only conveniently followed when it suits the hardliners.

If the PPP/C had tried something like this (assuming parliament was not prorogued in 2015) there would be massive destabilization and the rogue elements in the Guyana Police Force would have undermined the force’s policing work at that time in an effort to “make the country ungovernable.” The rogue elements trace their roots to the kick-down-the-door banditry of the late 1970s and 1980s, and their cadre evolved with the black-clothes extrajudicial killings and the PPP/C’s Faustian bargain with a late head police personality and the underworld when its supporters faced politically-inspired attacks after the 1997 general election. The Indian ethnic security dilemma was at the centre of the Faustian bargain since we know there was a reason why Hoyte called on the security forces to support their kith and kin.

Meanwhile, the PNCR’s response after the no-confidence vote would certainly enhance the enabling condition of the Indian ethnic security dilemma. They are more likely to follow a self-help strategy of rallying around the PPP/C, although anecdotal evidence appears to support the notion of a backlash from the independents (and even a few long-time PPP supporters) who voted for AFC and were thinking about going back to the PPP/C since they perceive marginalization from the PNC-dominated APNU. We would need some data to figure out whether the anecdotes indeed form a trend. However, as I wrote a few columns ago, the PPP/C will not be allowed to govern in peace, especially if it wins a majority. The logic of the ESDs will most likely prevail given the perceived ‘wealth’ oil is supposed to bring.

Compounding this problem is the fact that not a single leader from the PPP has ever articulated a credible vision of power sharing. Knowing the numerical advantage of Indians (albeit waning since 2000), the PPP only thinks in terms of electoral politics to the detriment I believe of its base, many of whom are very poor. Proposals for power sharing have mainly emerged from senior leaders of the PNC before and after 1998 until the Herdmanston Accord, as well as a matter of established party policy of ROAR and WPA.

In the next column, I will explore some of the historical origins of the ESDs as I believe it is important to stay with the theme of economic distribution and its connection to politics. In doing so, I will review an important scholarly book, written by Minister Carl Greenidge, which outlines land settlement schemes in Guyana from 1865 to 1985. This important book has insights into the thinking of contemporary economic policy making of PNCR and in particular its antagonistic approach to the business community from 2015.

Comments can be sent to tkhemraj@ncf.edu

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