BY Dr. Ken Danns
THE People’s Progressive Party (PPP) and the People’s National Congress (PNC) have alternated in government for much of the country’s post-colonial history. The PNC ruled Guyana for 28 years and the PPP replaced it and ruled the country for 23 years. Two dominant parties alternating in Government formed the basis for democratic governance in the developed Western nations and some developing nations also. Dominant two-party politics in Guyana however, neither produced sustainable development for the country nor fostered a climate of democratic rule. Both of this young nation’s leading political parties, while starting out with noble intentions, in turn proved excessively authoritarian with ensuing negative consequences for the country.
The democratic removals of the PNC and the PPP from office were accomplished mainly by the coalition of political parties opposed to their rule. When the PNC was in power, a coalition of opposition political parties called the Patriotic Coalition for Democracy (PCD) was established after the 1985 elections. This PCD coalition comprised five political parties — the PPP, the WPA, the Democratic Labour Movement (DLM), the People’s Democratic Movement (PDM), and the National Democratic Front (NDF) – formed with the singular purpose to advocate for free and fair elections. The PCD was spearheaded by the PPP and created the impetus for unseating the PNC and the restoration of democracy.
These parties however, did not form a common platform to contest the October 5, 1992 General Elections. The PPP won the elections and earned an independent parliamentary majority and the Executive Presidency. It won subsequent elections appealing to its majority ethnic base, while leading the country down a path of despair and perceived authoritarian rule for 23 years.
Once again, the Guyanese people resorted to coalition politics to unseat an authoritarian government, promote inclusionary democracy and end winner-takes- all politics in Guyana. On the 14th February, 2015, the APNU+AFC coalition of opposition political parties was formed in accordance with the Cummingsburg Accord, “to lead Guyana forward into a new era of accountability, human safety, financial probity, governmental transparency, parliamentary democracy and national unity.” The new coalition committed itself “to accept and promote dialogue, discussion and the use of constitutional means to advance economic, political and social change; respect the value and sanctity of human life; maintain high levels of mutual respect; reject ethnicity as a consideration for the participation of citizens in government, denounce corruption and promote financial transparency, probity at all levels of government.”
The Cummingsburg Accord, labelled “historical,” was signed by David Granger representing APNU and Khemraj Ramjattan representing the AFC. Granger was named presidential candidate and Moses Nagamootoo was its candidate for prime minister. The proposed cabinet would comprise ministerial representatives from each political party in the coalition. The Accord allocated APNU 60 percent of Cabinet posts and AFC 40 percent. Other areas of government would also reflect coalition representation. The coalition contested the May 11, 2015 General Elections as a common entity and won a parliamentary majority and the presidency.
The APNU+AFC Government is a Coalition Government. It is a government of rivals. It draws on the broad-based talent, training and experience of each party’s representatives. It comprises six political parties — the Guyana Action Party (GAP), Justice For All Party (JFA), National Front Alliance (NFA), Working People’s Alliance (WPA), People’s National Congress (PNC) and the Alliance For Change (AFC). This coalition of Guyanese political parties is a coalition of coalitions. A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) is itself a coalition of five political parties with the exception of the AFC. Four of the parties that comprise APNU were previously formed in opposition to the PNC. The WPA in particular was a bitter enemy of the PNC. The WPA was previously allied with the PPP under the Patriotic Coalition for Democracy (PCD). What brought these parties together was their commitment to inclusionary democracy, ending winner- takes- all politics and the imperative of bringing about development in a poor underdeveloped country that is rich with natural resources.
What brought these parties together was the integrity, dignity and competence of their leadership and their commitment to put Guyana first above narrow partisan interests and ideologies. Coalition leaders exemplified by President Granger and Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo are seemingly willing to trust each other and work together for the national good. Coalition leaders Nagamootoo and Ramjattan were themselves leading figures in the PPP before becoming disillusioned with the factionalist politics of the PPP and leaving to join the AFC.
In 1964, just prior to Guyana gaining independence in 1966, the incumbent PPP Government was unseated from power by a coalition of the PNC led by Forbes Burnham and the United Force (UF) led by Peter D’Aguiar. This PNC/UF coalition ended several years of internecine ethnic conflict under the PPP. The PNC/UF coalition worked well for four years during which Guyana, which became a new nation-state in 1966 and experienced ethnic tranquility, democracy and development. Then, in 1968, the PNC decided to rid itself of its coalition partner, the United Force, and go it alone with resulting negative democratic and developmental consequences for Guyana for over two decades. In 1992, the PPP had the opportunity to contest the general elections under the coalition PCD umbrella, but instead chose to go it alone knowing then that resorting to divisive ethnic politics would propel them to power. This also proved to be a mistake for the PPP and its myopic governance of Guyana for over two decades.
Both the PNC and the PPP flirted with the symbolic imagery of coalition politics. In reality, neither was effectively committed to it. The PNC called itself the PNC/Reform, incorporating selected representatives from civil society. The PPP called itself the PPP/Civic by including a few representatives also from civic society. Neither the PNC/R nor the PPP/C were viewed as genuine coalition entities by the Guyanese people. Coalition politics has historically advanced democracy and development in Guyana. Coalition governments by their very nature tend to be fairer, more democratic, reflective of a broader range of public opinions and public interests and are characterised by more consensus-based politics. The APNU+AFC Coalition Government is a representative government and a government that is representative of the Guyanese people.
A majority of Guyanese citizens voted for the parties which form the coalition government and so their views and interests are represented in its political decision-making. The APNU+AFC Coalition Government is representative of all ethnic groups, regional groups and ideologies in Guyana. It is truly a national coalition that has successfully overcome the dysfunctional, dominant one-party politics of the PNC and PPP that in turn ruled Guyana for nearly 50 years.
The PPP stands alone in opposition to the Coalition Government. Its accustomed playbook has been to resort to ethnic chauvinism to propel and maintain itself in power. A political strategy that resorts exclusively to racial and sectarian appeal will no longer work for the PPP, once a unified APNU+AFC Coalition remains together. The population dynamics reveal Indo-Guyanese at 39.8 percent, Afro- Guyanese at 29.3 percent, Mixed races at 19.9 percent and Amerindians at 10.5 percent. Demography is seemingly dictating coalition rule in Guyana. The APNU+AFC Coalition must continue to project its multi-ethnic and multi-sectarian image and base to sustain democracy and promote Guyana’s development. The parties in the coalition must continue to respect and trust each other.
They must be willing to communicate with each other, make compromises and remain committed to putting Guyana first ahead of their own partisan agendas. Importantly, they each offer checks and balances against the excesses and undemocratic proclivities of each other and the government as a whole.
This is by no means to suggest that there are not marked differences among the parties in the coalition, even though these differences may be suppressed in the interest of the greater good. The coalition partners maintain their independent identities and it is inevitable that acrimony will arise from time to time and one or more parties might even threaten to leave the fold. Smaller parties often seek to be the kingmakers in the coalition and this may engender acrimony.
The bigger parties may find that they are constrained to give more ground than they feel is justified and one or other party may disproportionately shape national policies. But such is the nature of coalition politics. Still, were it not for the coalition, some of these parties may never have had the opportunity to run the government and have a viable stake in charting the future of Guyana. The differences among the political parties and built-in rivalry make for greater accountability and transparency in a coalition government. Compromise rather than factionalism is the modus operandi of successful coalitions.
The success of the APNU+AFC Coalition Government is very much dependent on the leadership of the parties that comprise it. It is also very much dependent on the willingness of this cabinet of rivals to communicate and to compromise. The Guyanese people should therefore expect that their new government will from time to time exhibit internal divisions and differences of views and policies.
Indeed, such differences and divisions are the very foundation of its being. It is functional conflict. As the rival parties jockey for political space, APNU+AFC must not forget how it became a coalition government in the first place and why. Is this coalition government good for Guyana at this crucial stage of its political and economic development? Only time will tell. So far, the results of this government of rivals have been quite favourable for the nation.