DESPITE views to the contrary in some circles, there have been changes in Guyanese and Caribbean politics over the last three decades beginning with the end of the Cold War and the rise of the new period of recolonisation that we call globalisation or neo-liberalism or structural adjustment. That these changes have not always been apparent to the naked political eye has to do with the simultaneous deepening of traditional aspects of the political culture. For example, despite attempts at promoting democracy and “good governance”, our country and region have not yet transitioned into a truly democratic mode of governance. Some would argue that in many regards our governance culture has become less democratic than it was at the time of independence.
Democracy is not a fixed thing; it is a process. That’s why I speak of the transition to a democratic form of governance. Here in Guyana, more than most of our sister CARICOM countries, we have experienced prolonged, overt assaults on democracy. Under the PNC (1964-92), the colonial authoritarian state was transformed into a post-colonial authoritarian state that initially masked itself with the rhetoric of anti-imperialism and socialism. It also situated itself within the context of ethnic defence of one half of the society and the Cold War real-politics or communist threat from its main rival, the PPP.
It was against this background that the State eventually deteriorated to the point where political assassination of opponents of the regime became a central aspect of the elite political culture. The ruling party declared itself paramount to the State in word and deed. The convergence of these two developments pushed the country to the political edge and we avoided falling over only because the resistance movement engendered by the assault on democracy managed to survive its many challenges.
Understandably, the end of that phase of authoritarian rule ushered in a sense of relief. After almost three decades of battering, the pro-democracy forces and instincts in the society became tired. We made the mistake of believing that the end of authoritarianism could only lead to democratisation. It was a fatal mistake. The PPP government maintained the authoritarian state, but covered it with a democratic mask and the rhetoric of ethnic balancing. They transformed the old authoritarian state into what Professor Clive Thomas has dubbed the “criminal state, “in which there was a fusion of organised criminal enterprises with the state. Worse, this criminalization of the state was firmly rooted in the systematic ethnic hegemony ruthlessly pursued by the rulers.
After two decades of that imposition, Guyana was fast collapsing under the weight of almost five decades of systematic dictatorship. Once again, we were rescued just in time—this time by the willingness of political elites to put aside their differences and form coalitions of the willing. The PPP was electorally overthrown and a coalition government came to power by a slim majority. Again, the country breathed a sigh of relief. But unlike 1992, this time there was not the same level of relaxation by the pro-democracy forces. There has been a curious convergence of celebration, optimism and skepticism.
But at the level of the State and government , there has been no discernable shift. After two years, the criminalised State remains firmly in place. Decriminalising the State would require some bold steps by the government. But as I have observed in previous columns, there are political and ethnic obstacles which would have to be navigated.
The most profound development, however, is the tension between the entrenched model of governance and the evolution of partnership government. Whereas the Westminster- grounded hybrid model of governance arms the president with almost absolute executive power, the notion of Partnership restrains him from acting unilaterally. He is bound by the Cummingsburg Accord to consult with and acquiesce to the AFC before changing any AFC ministers. Put another way, the president has constitutional powers to remove or shift AFC ministers, but there is a political accord that requires him to do so with the complete agreement of the AFC.
The Cummingsburg Accord is more than a gentleman’s agreement—it is a political agreement. Should the president use his constitutional power and not consult the AFC, there could be clear and present political consequences — the government could fall if the AFC decides to withhold its parliamentary support. What we have, then, is a model of government that is inconsistent with the constitutional arrangement.
This brings us to the APNU, which is itself a coalition within a coalition. The APNU is bound by a Charter, but where it differs from the Cummingsburg Accord is the fact that it did not bind the parties to any set allocation of seats in parliament and the Cabinet—it did not speak explicitly to content of government structures and the division of power. But my reading is that the Charter does imply what the Accord makes explicit.
Speaking at the launch of the APNU on June 15, 2011, the APNU pledged to practise ““a politics of consensus.” Then candidate David Granger said the watchwords of an APNU administration under his leadership would be “co-operation, collaboration and concord.” WPA’s co-leader Dr. Rupert Roopnarine declared that the APNU was superior to previous coalitions because “for the very first time in our history we are in the process of constructing an open partnership.” And Carl Greenidge invoked the following words– “discussion, consultation and consensus”.
The implication therein is that the President operates under a set of formal rules that discourages prior consultation, but the very nature of coalition arrangements presumes such consultation. This is the dilemma that played itself out this past week. The WPA, in raising the issue of consultation regarding the Roopnarine, reassignment has perhaps unwittingly introduced the fundamental question of the dissonance between the formal architecture and mode of governance and the logic and imperative of coalition government.
How they reconcile the two will depend on a lot of political maturity on both sides. Our politics has changed because of our leaders’ deliberate act of embracing coalition politics, but those leaders are now waking up to the consequences of their actions. We shall see.
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.com. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org