AS one of the persons who have been part of what some people see as the WPA’s return to its traditional role of asking questions of power, I have come in for my fair share of attacks, ridicule and “cussing” out. I am being projected in some quarters as the villain who is going after power and in the process trying to break up the coalition. I have been around politics long enough not to have expected that. For all our accumulated political astuteness, there is a poisonous side to our political culture that goes in over-drive when our ethno-political status-quo is challenged, especially when that challenge comes from one of “our own.”
That phenomenon arises from a deep sense of political loyalty, but, above all, it is guided by an active ethnic fear of the other. That fear is real, it is constant and it is fed by both the practical experiences of living under ethnic governments and leaders who have been prepared to manipulate that fear for political and economic ends. Much of the apprehension and anger at me and the WPA is driven by African-Guyanese fear of the PPP’s return to power—that fear is so deep that it breeds a bunker-like attitude to our politics. Any criticism, however valid, is seen as facilitating the return to power of the PPP.
In such circumstances, it is difficult to get that constituency to see self-criticism as a barrier to the PPP coming back to power. Fear drives people to see only one side of the coin.
The WPA, of which I am a part, risked its very relevance and its four decades of political integrity by tactically muzzling its voice during the first two years of this new government. It was a tactical decision made in what the party saw as the larger interest of the country. That decision brought two reactions. First, it triggered ridicule, outrage, frustration and disappointment from that part of our political culture which values critique and the challenging of power as essential tenets of democratic politics.
The second reaction came from those who don’t mind the WPA being part of the coalition, so long as it knows its place. So, in effect, the party’s tactical position in the interest of stability of the coalition inadvertently facilitated its own sideling from real participation in decision-making.
What has happened since the removal of Dr. Roopnaraine from the Ministry of Education is instructive for our politics. Given the WPA’s caution, which was read as timidity, those who control power felt they could get away with the crude handling of the Roopnaraine removal. After more than two years of sidelining the WPA without any purposeful resistance from the party, there was no reason to believe Roopnaraine’s removal would be a big deal. After all, the WPA is a small party that has accepted its sidelining.
But social and political motion cannot be bottled up forever. Just as the WPA’s caution emboldened the leaders of the coalition to disregard the party, the crude handling of Roopnaraine’s removal has engendered the resistance we now see from them. This is what makes politics a very unpredictable phenomenon. How do you explain a scenario, whereby the most silent and presumably powerless partner suddenly becomes the most vocal critic?
The answer to that question lies in an understanding of the political history and psyche of the country, along with an appreciation for its complex political culture. It is this lack of understanding of our politics that partly allows some in our midst to view what has happened during the past few weeks as resulting from some personal ambition on my part, rather than as a result of bad management of power by the coalition.
Apart from those who are angry at the WPA for being destructive to the coalition, there are others who are energised that a group within the coalition is raising their fears in what they see as a constructive way. Both groups of supporters share the fear of the PPP’s return to power, but they differ on the role of self-criticism. While one group sees self-criticism as destructive, the other see it as constructive. I obviously fall into the latter group.
Fear is real, but if you allow it to imprison you, then the consequences could be fatal. Fear is real, but irrational and blind fear are counter-productive. African-Guyanese fear of the PPP eventually facilitated a dictatorship for most of the 28 years of PNC rule. Indian-Guyanese fear of the PNC for most of the 23 years of PPP rule facilitated the most depraved government in the post-colonial history of the Anglophone Caribbean. As if we have not learned, fear of the PPP threatens to again lead us down the road of facilitating another unaccountable government.
Guyanese people must be stronger that we have been. We have to temper our ethnic fears with reason. I am saddened when I turn on the TV or walk the streets and hear ordinary people defending half million dollar rent for a government minister. I know that these people would not ordinarily defend such political immorality by the PPP. Then why defend it when it’s done by your own? I hear the nonsense that the PPP paid the same rent for its ministers, so nothing is wrong if we do it. If you remove a government because it had become a monster, then you proceed to evaluate your government based on the standards of that discredited government, then you are worse than those you removed.
We, government supporters, cannot be proud of our defence of PPP-style political immorality.
Finally, the President has said publicly that he does not believe that the problems of the coalition should be trashed out in the press. I agree with the president in principle. But the Guyanese people must know that the WPA’s resort to public discourse comes after two years of crying out for internal discussions without any success. As Nelson Mandela said in his address to the court in his famous trial almost six decades ago, there comes a time when you are left with two choices—submit or demand.
I would like to think that that time is here for the WPA and other supporters of the government who are concerned about the success of the government and the political health of the nation. If we do not demand that our government does the right thing, we would in the end enable unaccountable governance which is the stepping stone to dictatorship. And if the coalition goes down that road, the PPP would inevitably be back in power. We have been there before.
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