Feb 17, 2019
Guyana is not a mature democracy. After more than 50 years of independence, we have not reached the point where our political, partisan and ideological disagreements and conflicts are played out within the context of the rule of law, constitutional supremacy and protection of civil rights and liberties.
While factors such as the hyper authoritarian instincts of leaders thrown up by the political culture, the personalization of power and the paramountcy of the political party are key to that outcome, it is our ethnic competition that ultimately stands in the way democratic maturity. It is not that democratic instincts do not exist in our political culture, but ultimately it is the authoritarian instinct that always wins.
In Guyana, democracy cannot be construed outside of our ethnic dynamics.
Some observers have blamed the PNC ‘s authoritarian regime 1964-92 on Forbes Burnham’s authoritarian approach to the management of power. While I agree that that was a factor in the outcome, I think even more pivotal was the ethnic dynamics, which we inherited from the long period of colonial domination.
I believe Burnham and the PNC made a definite decision to opt for a praxis of electoral fraud to protect African Guyanese from permanent domination. Since electoral fraud and democratic governance cannot co-exist, authoritarianism was inevitable. The natural resistance to that authoritarianism was then played out against the backdrop of the very logic of anti-democracy. It meant that instead of breaking down the authoritarian state and culture of colonialism, we ended up consolidating them.
The Walter Rodney-WPA intervention challenged that praxis in a very serious way. For almost two decades, starting with the Eusi Kwayana-Moses Bhagwan ASCRIA-IPRA intervention in the early 1970s through the Rodney period and the decade following Rodney’s assassination, the democratic instinct was most prevalent.
That democratic instinct prevailed because Rodney and the WPA were able to subdue the ethnic fears and insecurities of the two major ethnic groups and channel their common energies into a larger multi-ethnic resistance movement. But with the return of free elections, the lid on the ethnic fears and insecurities was blown off and the authoritarian instinct returned with a vengeance. The ethnic groups returned to their ethnic enclaves and the Rodney-WPA intervention came to an end.
It was against that background that the PPP came to power in 1992. The party won the election and begun to govern with the blessings of even Indian Guyanese who had left the party and embraced the Rodney-WPA intervention and others who had embraced the PNC regime as a matter of survival. Not unexpectedly, the PPP saw its principal objective in government in ethnic terms. From all indications, the party made a deliberate decision to empower Indian Guyanese materially and symbolically as a form of protection against future domination.
Unlike the PNC, the PPP didn’t have to opt for electoral fraud, but it embarked on a praxis of overt ethnic domination. This included weakening of African Guyanese institutions and areas of the political economy and the state where they dominated, in addition to massive transfer of state resources into private hands of mainly Indian Guyanese.
Invariably, the State was merged with the growing criminal networks. The Indian Guyanese community, most of whom did not benefit directly from the transfer of State resources, backed the PPP, because they saw it as protecting their ethnic interests. Since ethnic domination and criminalization of the State cannot co-exist with democratic governance, authoritarianism was inevitable. Instead of breaking down the authoritarian State and political culture inherited from the PNC, the PPP consolidated and enhanced them.
By the time the PPP left office in 2015, it had transformed Guyana into an Ethno-Authoritarian State. Enter the Coalition Government. It was the first government of its type. Unlike the PNC-UF coalition of 1964-68, this was a pre-election partnership of three established parties and three others not so established. But the leadership of the PNC, to my mind, made a deliberate decision to govern as a PNC government.
APNU was demobilized to mute WPA’s influence, and the presidency was superimposed on the Coalition to mute the AFC. This party dominance has been a deliberate decision to ensure that ultimate power resides in the hands of African Guyanese leaders within the Coalition.
It is no secret that the government has not performed well in the last three and a half years. To my mind, the undermining of the Coalition mentioned above, narrow decision-making, hyper-elitism and visionless leadership, have been the major contributing factors. Since the passage of the No Confidence Motion, the government has defied all attempts to get it to demit office. From the judicial review of the vote, to the calls for new voter registration by GECOM, the delaying tactics are hardly masked.
But what the media and other commentators are avowing is the ethnic question. The African Guyanese community, which only a few months ago severely rebuked the government at the Local Government Elections, is now squarely behind the government actions—they want the government to remain in place. The vote by Charrandass Persaud has reignited anti-Indian suspicions among African Guyanese and the realization that the same pre-2015 PPP leadership could return to power appears to have hardened the ethnic feelings.
The not so-hidden message to African Guyanese is that they are being cheated out of power. The estranged base is now reunited with the leadership. It is against that background that the government’s stubborn cling to power must be seen.
It seems to me then, that the impasse needs a political solution. To behave as though this is a case of a government subverting democracy is to miss the essence of the problem. If the government bows out without resistance, it would have a hard time convincing its base to go to the polls when elections are held. The longer it holds out, the longer time it gets to mend fences with the base.
What is at stake here is which ethnic group would symbolically and materially be in control of the common oil wealth. For its part, the PPP is eager to prove that those Indian Guyanese who voted for the Coalition in 2015 are now back where they belong; that the signals from the LGE are real. The sub-text to what we are witnessing is the ethnic dynamics just below the surface.
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 email@example.com