Guyana would be better served when its people come to believe that the system of governance will protect their general interests whether or not the political parties are ethnically based. That said, I take it that Mr. Forde’s references to ethnicity was intended to undermine the political appeal of Aubrey Norton, who is one of the front runners for the PNCR leadership. If so, I have repeatedly heard Mr. Norton vociferously attacking the PPP for being racist, and I when I was minister of housing I was the victim of such attacks. In Guyana people are routinely labeled racist, particularly when they are strongly defending the interests of their ethnic side. I have, however, never heard Norton expressing what I consider racist sentiments. I believe that when he spoke about returning his party to the ‘grassroots’, he was dealing with party reorganization and merely addressing the observation made by many party members that the party had lost its way by not being in touch with core supporters. It so happens that substantially all of its ‘grassroots’ supporters are of African ethnicity – ‘black people’.
After over six decades of trying, both the PNC and the PPP have been unable to meaningfully diversify their ethnic base. Mr. Forde claimed that former President David Granger ‘consolidated’ PNC support from 114,000 votes in 2006 to 139,000 in 2011, and 218,000 in 2020. 2006 was opportunistically chosen: after nearly three decades in government, in 1992 the PNC was still able to gain 128,286 votes, which became 161,901 in 1997, 165,866 in 2001 and 114,608 in 2006 after some unusual quarrel between the PNC and Working People’s Alliance (WPA) over who would lead a coalition and the Alliance for Change (AFC) joining the national electoral race for the first time. Furthermore, the PNC was forming coalitions since the 1950s and the 2006 quarrel suggests that in recent times, before Mr. Granger became its leader, it was again prepared to enter into coalitions. We need not pay much attention to the 2015 or 2020 numbers since in those years the PNC was in coalition with the AFC. Mr. Granger’s contribution should be more appropriately considered a partial consolidation of the PNC’s traditional support, not as expanding the party’s ethnic base if the latter was Mr. Forde’s intention.
The claim by the PNCR and PPP that they are multiethnic parties is aspirational and opportunistic. Both parties have persisted with this position because historically it has proven beneficial. When the PNC was rigging elections before 1992, in an attempt to win legitimacy and compliance it would claim that victory resulted from ethnic cross over votes. That bubble was destroyed when after ‘winning’ a two-thirds majority in 1985, it lost the first free and fair elections in 1992. So long as the PPP had its ethnic majority, being multiracial enhanced its democratic legitimacy to rule a largely ethnically bicommunal society. As with the pre 1992 PNC, the 2020 election showed quite clearly that there were substantial elections irregularities. But even if the PPP/C won the elections by one seat, its legitimacy to govern a bicommunal society that is in persistent political turmoil is extremely questionable. After all, governance is about making substantially all, not some, of the electorate relatively happy.
Accepting these parties to be what they are not is a dangerous delusion for as mentioned above, it could undermine the democratic process, and lead to institutional disintegration and constituency neglect. Persons who strongly defend the ethnic group to which they belong are not ipso facto racists, and when in a multi-ethnic society a party member begins to suggest that others are racist s/he better have strong evidence. In the context of Guyana, having a multi-racial aspiration is useful but having failed to accomplish it after more than six decades of ‘troubles’, should one not refocus upon rearranging the current political reality in a democratic manner?
Accepting that every context is different, let’s take the somewhat extreme case of Belgium, which has a GDP per capita of US$48,200 and is ranked 14th with Great Britain in the best country in which to live index. Guyana is at 122. Belgium does not have ‘national’ political parties operating on both sides of the ethnic border. There are Flemish parties in Dutch-speaking Flanders and Francophone parties in Wallonia. Only in bilingual Brussels can voters choose from either Flemish or Francophone parties. Since no single party holds an absolute majority in parliament, after each election the strongest party will create a coalition with other parties to form the government.
There is absolutely nothing wrong in having a party that is rooted in ethnicity: what is delusional is to pretend that this is not so and continue to operate in a dysfunctional constitutional/legal context trying to win – or otherwise acquire – sufficient support from the other ethnicities to establish your political dominance!