Aug 04, 2019
Today, I want to address three related issues.
First, I wish to argue that although ethnicity remains the overriding motivation for choosing who governs, there is likely to be a slight but significant difference in the upcoming election. The big difference that would be forced on political parties is this: they would have to convince a small but important segment of the population that they are worthy of their vote.
The coming Oil and Gas economy compels the parties to put a vision before the voters—people want to know how they would benefit from the expected wealth.
In my interaction, I have encountered a group of mainly young people across social class, gender, and to a lesser extent, ethnicity, who are so alienated from the political parties; they are threatening not to vote at the next election. Their main complaint is that the political parties when in office have not implemented large overarching policies that have had the effect of improving their material circumstances.
Though most of them acknowledge some general improvements under the Coalition, they think these have not been enough. In light of the above, I think both the PPP and the Coalition have to work harder than usual for those extra votes they would need to secure a majority. They have to do more retail politics by meeting people in small groups and reason with them rather than just talk at them.
The big question for both political forces is this: Convince us why we should give our vote to you in light of your failure to bring about big transformation of the political economy. It follows, therefore, that appeal to the ethnic fears will not automatically work among this group of voters.
My sense is that the parties would have to tell them of their vision for the coming oil and gas economy, and how the various sections of the population fit into that vision. This means that for the first time in Guyana, policy would play an important role in the elections, largely because of the imminent oil and gas economy. The parties run the risk of losing important votes if they ignore that reality.
In relation to Oil and Gas, there have been suggestions from the Coalition about using the wealth to improve infrastructure and education, and the setting up of the Sovereign Wealth Fund. The other side has criticised the contract and flayed the Coalition for a lack of vision.
The truth is that neither side has presented a clear comprehensive plan. The WPA has introduced the issue of Cash Transfers to households, which has been very popular among the poorer sections of the society, but the two major forces have yet to address it in a frontal manner. The side that advances a more comprehensive plan that speaks to the varied needs of the people would convince more of the skeptical voters.
Now to the persistent question of a Government of National Unity. Some political forces, especially those around ANUG, continue to argue for power sharing as the solution to our political stalemate. I still believe that is the correct path in the long run. However, while I do not think power sharing between the PPP and the Coalition parties is not unattainable, it has become more difficult.
I don’t think the PPP is interested in that option, largely because that party feels that it could win the next election by a wide margin, and because its leadership is generally steeped in the politics of domination. I think they have historically been more resistant to shared governance, given the majority or large minority Indian Guyanese vote.
The PNC is more open to Shared Governance, as is evident by its membership of APNU and the APNU+AFC Coalition. But even then, the PNC approaches the idea of Shared Governance in practice from the standpoint of Big-Party domination. In other words, it wants Shared Governance in principle, but undermines it in practice.
This attitude of the PPP and PNC makes it very difficult to sustain any Shared Governance experiment. I don’t see in the short run how the two parties can function in the same government. One expects gridlock in all forms of government, including in Power Sharing ones. But if the PPP and PNC are in the same government there would be super-gridlock, because their relations are governed by zero-sum politics, with little room for consensus.
Having said the above, my sense is that there is now added pressure on the Coalition to demonstrate that power sharing. After all, that is the basis on which it won in 2015. Nevertheless, it is no secret that this is one area of weakness in its performance over the last four years.
I think there is still the perception and reality that the Coalition is the better option, simply because it is a coming together of several parties. But for it to be a clincher at the coming election, there must be a commitment to improved management of the Coalition, to the satisfaction of all its member parties.
The last related issue I want to address is the controversy surrounding the PPP’s presidential candidate. Is he strong enough? Is he a liability to the PPP? Even without the problems surrounding his academic qualifications and the Pradoville issue, Ali is an unattractive candidate. He just does not fit the profile of the maximum leader.
So, he is bothersome for the PPP. That is why Jagdeo is giving him as much cover. But I suspect that there are forces outside of the PPP who have insisted on his candidacy in exchange for campaign donations. He is not really the PPP’s first choice; his candidacy is imposed on the PPP from outside. It’s hard to see how a Nandlall or Frank Anthony, who are superior candidates, would be enthusiastic about him on the campaign trail
I think despite his problems, Irfaan Ali is not totally seen as damaged goods; certainly not to the PPP’s base. However, his candidacy weakens the PPP’s ability to reach across the divide, and he introduces some degree of uncertainty among the party’s soft voters. But by the time we get to the election, the party’s top and second level leadership would rally around him, and this would put pressure among the skeptics among the base to do likewise. We live in an era in which political morality is very low on the requirements for top leadership.
The Coalition should target him for special criticisms, but they would have to find a way to tailor that message to potential PPP voters. That message cannot be framed in ridicule—that is for the Coalition’s base. Rather, it would have to appeal to the conscience of the voters. Ridicule would be seen in ethnic terms, and that would have the opposite effect. His candidacy may yet prove to be the perfect gift to the Coalition.
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