Aug 18, 2019
I have spent the last few weeks on the campaign trail with the WPA, which has decided to visit communities to begin to rally disgruntled voters back to the Coalition.
It has been an interesting experience—coming face to face with loyal but dissatisfied voters is quite a challenge. As one of the major speakers at these meetings, I have been tasked with balancing a critical analysis of the Coalition government and making the case for its return to power. But more importantly, we have had to face stern grilling from supporters and potential supporters.
Guyanese and Caribbean political culture are complex. I remember years ago, a then Grenadian graduate student asking me to explain how could Grenadians who voted for Eric Gairy, the then Prime Minister, throw their support behind the revolutionaries in their bid to topple the government.
I explained to her that the Caribbean political instinct is plural and diverse to the point of appearing contradictory. The history of bondage has engendered in our psyche, a need to constantly look for diverse routes to freedom. It is that psyche that could accommodate both Burnham and Rodney as heroes of Linden, and Burnham and Kwayana as legitimate leaders of the African Guyanese community. Professor Rex Nettleford describes that phenomenon as “order in chaos and chaos in order.”
There has always been a place for radical politics in the collective instinct. You could not come out of slavery and colonialism and not be radical. Faced with a hostile world after independence, the governmental leaders opted for a pragmatic approach to governance—it was out of that pragmatism that came what we call today “mass parties” such as the PPP and PNC. These parties were primarily geared to fight and win elections. Consequently, they generally saw politics through the lens of “transaction”—the trading of promises for votes.
This transactional approach rendered the parties incapable of serious political reflection. Consequently, they view the cries of the citizens for transformation of their lives as unnecessary moaning, and as ingratitude for what the party and government do for them.
These leaders are incapable of understanding that the euphoria on election day quickly turns into sober reflection by the individual and collective once the dust settles after election. It is that misunderstanding of the deeper political culture by the mass parties that induces alienation among their electoral supporters.
In our visits to the communities, the WPA has come face to face with this alienation among many government supporters, which manifests itself in diverse ways—anger, cynicism, disconnection, skepticism, frustration, pessimism and cautious optimism.
We have had to employ a balanced critique of the government to get through to these citizens. We opted not to tell them that the government has done wonderful things for them, for they come to our meetings having already concluded the opposite. They still want to vote for the government, but they want an honest explanation of its recalcitrance and guarantees that should it be returned to power, things would be different.
As an individual, my critique of the government over the last four years, gives me an easier entrance into the consciousness of these citizens. This critique along with the harsh treatment meted out to me by the government has brought me closer to the disgruntled—I am one of them. It makes reasoning with them easier.
In Den Amstel, it is reported that some PNC members, led by a powerful PNC man, told villagers to stay away from the WPA meeting because Hinds “does talk a lot of stupidness.” The end result was that approximately 75 residents defied these calls and in their own words, came “to hear Dr. Hinds’ stupidness.”
More than half of them signed up to be become WPA members. Many of them came to the meeting as doubtful voters, but left vowing to vote for the Coalition. One man summed up the spirit of the meeting this way: “I came here not sure if I would vote, but after listening to your meeting, I am ready to vote tomorrow.
It is this latter attitude that we have encountered from Buxton to Victoria to Linden. From the complaints of the people at Melanie Damishana – that their pleas for help to regularize their status of their housing scheme – to the pleas of Victorians, for a proper road to the farmlands and markets for their crops, to the cries of the people of Dem Amstel, for help in turning their ancestral lands into house lots for the landless, the people cry out for attention and opportunities.
A journalist at the WPA press conference asked us to explain why, after the terrible treatment of the party by the leadership of APNU, do we still want them back in power. The answer is this: Politics for me has never been about the individual leader—I learned that from Kwayana. I want to assure all those who welcomed us into their communities and waited to shake my hand or to give me a hug or take a photo or have a quick chat or to tell me that they pray for me, that I would channel your pledge of support into making the Coalition a more responsive vessel to your needs and your empowerment if they win the election.
I learned that some of the Coalition leaders despise me for criticising the government, but that does not deter me— it is the empowerment of the people that drives me to work for the Coalition’s return to office.
(The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of this newspaper)
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