Nearly six and a half decades after the PPP first came to government in 1953, with other hopeful junctures in 1964, 1992, 2011 and 2015, Guyana stands at another political crossroads and the outcome will again depend largely upon how the political elite and our diffracted civil society respond to the current difficulties. Two weeks ago I was critical of where, the PPP, among others, claims the coalition is attempting to take us and today I want to comment upon what I believe to be the approach of the PPP to the present dilemma.
Put as starkly as possible, the PPP must now grasp and deal with the fact that there is a near universal belief among Africans that its rule maltreated them to a point where, to use the idiom of Forbes Burnham’s maligning of Walter Rodney’s socialist-orientated Working Peoples’ Alliance (WPA), the PPP is now the ‘Worst Possible Alternative;’ with all that entails!
Thus, the PPP needs to craft a sensible response to the present political situation. Cries that its aim is to take government for another 25 years is quite a reduction on its previous ambition and only half of what the PNCR now projects, but it is a dissociative and foolish response.
Another wasteful thought would be for the party to fool itself that, given another chance, it would act differently; that it would reject the theory of political dominance in practice, since it would be political suicide to at present do so in public, and that it will in future be more caring of all races, ethnicities and classes and set Guyana upon the road to becoming a modern democracy.
Even if one is prepared to accept the sincerity of the above position, while it allows the party leadership to continue along the normal course hoping for the best, it is essentially wishful thinking. Because the political context of a system rooted in ethnic entrepreneurship has a logic of its own that the above commitments do not appear to understand.
Firstly, in such an environment one is never able to satisfy the other side. Whatever is done will be insufficient once it threatens to rob the ethnic operatives of their constituency. Secondly, if an inordinate amount is done to placate the other side, the PPP would certainly be opening the door to new and more radical players seeking the ethnic route to office by fermenting dissatisfaction among its constituency. Finally, a once solid ethnic base could disintegrate into warring factions, leaving the coast clear for the other, perhaps less numerous side, to dominate the political scene.
At a practical level, the above realities will cause all of the PPP’s initial good intentions to vanish, particularly since it may be easy to justify one’s ‘democratic’ existence in government based upon a slim electoral margin. Therefore, a PPP promise to behave differently/better if it come again to government is too tendentious to be taken seriously.
But for two reasons, circumstances of its own making have now landed the PPP in another hard place. Firstly, instead of making efforts to meaningfully share the political space, even when in 2011 it was clear that its end was nigh, the PPP devised a dangerous strategy of heightened ethnic mobilisation to attempt to recapture its majority. Regardless of how essential sharing the political space is to our cohesive and prosperous living, the PPP now has no moral legitimacy to make such a proposal. Thus, faced by a government that is clearly underperforming, it seeks to rally its supporters with utopian expectations of soon taking government for another 25 years.
Secondly, the current regime, apparently set upon its own wayward course, is paying no attention to its basic 2015 election commitment to make fundamental constitutional changes during this term of office. Thus, while PPP cannot morally legitimately raise the issue of sharing government, the regime is allowing no formal space to enable it to do so surreptitiously. Not to mention that given the location of important elements of its constituents in the business sector, the first hint of its willingness to make a deal with the present government would encourage many such elements to seek advantage by taking ‘first’ jump. This could significantly weaken the negotiating position of the party if and when such an opportunity arises.
On all fronts our vistas are much more promising than those of our forefathers and thus we can only be thwarted by our own intellectual insularity and narrow self-interest. Knowing what the PPP knows about our society and the protracted nature, if not impossibility, of winning significant cross-over ethnic support, it must realise that governing reasonably optimally in such a context is impossible. The party needs to remember that its failed effort to dominate the political environment was rooted in similar concerns, and it if it has already forgotten its own experience it needs only look at what is happening now, when arguably the state of ethnic alienation has never been greater!
Let me make myself quite clear: I am with those who do not believe that it is in the best interest of Guyana for the PPP/C to return to government in the near future. I also do not believe that it will serve the best interest of Guyana for the present regime to subvert the electoral process to stay in government or indeed for either party to take government in a marginal fashion.
I have argued many times in this column that longevity in government is bad for democracy and in that sense the smallest change in voter pattern that facilitates regime change should be welcomed. But while this kind of marginality may pose little problem in a sufficiently homogeneous society where there are fluid majorities and allies today can be in conflict tomorrow on the same or different issue and vice versa, where, as a result of ethnic political polarization, large ethnic blocks are routinely alienated, governance marginality is suboptimal and should be eschewed.
The question is: how can we get to a government that can ensure the psychological and actual peace and prosperity of all of us? As we are thinking on this important issue I believe that it would be good for us to ponder upon the words of James Madison in Federalist paper N0.51:
‘Justice is the end of government. .. It ever has been and ever will be pursued until it be obtained, or until liberty be lost in the pursuit. In a society under the forms of which the stronger faction can readily unite and oppress the weaker, anarchy may as truly be said to reign as … where the weaker individual is not secured against the violence of the stronger.’