POLITICAL decisions have consequences–often wide-ranging consequences. It is for that reason that those who are tasked with making such decisions weigh the pros and the cons, must consult widely and must try as hard as possible not to be blinded by narrow partisan outcomes. Political decision-makers must avoid easy answers to complex challenges—they must have a sense of the nation’s motion, both in terms of its history and its sociology. Decisions must flow both from a larger, long- term vision and from a reading of the contemporary environment.
One of the great failures of our post-colonial politics has been our collective failure to understand the consequences of our complex history and shape a politics and society consistent with the possibilities which that history presents. This failure has saddled our society with an authoritarian political culture that over and over invariably throws up authoritarian governments. And these governments have not existed in isolation—they have been nourished by a society which has consciously and unconsciously been more often than not too willing to abandon reason in favour of partisan expediency.
In other words, it is not simply that our political leaders have been authoritarian, it is that they have been facilitated by a society and culture that abandon political reason and sanity when faced with perceived and real threats to partisan survival and interests.
The recent decision by the president to unilaterally appoint the chairman of GECOM has exposed this national affliction. Jagdeo and the PPP had very early made the backward decision to derail the spirit of the law which requires the opposition leader to provide the president with a reasonable list that affords him due scope to make his choice. This is essential to the workability of the system. That is why I cannot support the view that it is solely the president’s action that has got us in the mess that we are now in. The action of the opposition leader must also count in any rational analysis of the situation.
We are too guilty in Guyana of looking for easy answers to complex questions. It is so easy to say, “Granger acted undemocratically” or “He broke the law.” Even if those assertions were true, they are suspect in our political environment because we apply them selectively, often against our partisan foes and never against our partisan own. Granger’s supporters are partially justified when they heap scorn on most of those organisations and individuals who are charging their leader with autocracy. In politics you must be consistent to be credible. And most of these people and organisations stood silent or aided the regime when the PPP ruled in the most autocratic manner.
And worse, they are not highlighting the responsibility of the opposition leader in the current impasse. It borders on legal and political dishonesty not to point out collective responsibility in a process that assumes collective burden. Jagdeo is legally and politically culpable here and this needs to be said. Granger’s action, whatever you think about it, was not made in isolation and should not be explained in isolation from Jagdeo’s deliberate reading of his role and his actions which flowed from that reading.
The PPP is dangerously, even if predictably, partisan on this matter. I say dangerously, because the PPP is deliberately engaging in fear-mongering, which in our ethnic environment is a direct and indirect exploitation of Indian-Guyanese insecurities and fear. Unfortunately, authoritarianism, dictatorship and election-rigging have gone beyond the PNC; they have taken on ethnic meanings in the consciousness of many PPP supporters. The PNC’s sins have become Black sins.
What this means is that the collective Indian-Guyanese response is less to the alleged constitutional violation and more to the threat of disenfranchisement by African- Guyanese leaders. If readers doubt me, just read the posts on Facebook and other social media and the comments on news stories on the Stabroek News and Demerara Waves websites. There is no doubt in my mind that Jagdeo and the PPP are preparing their supporters for large-scale political confrontation. And those Civil Society organisations and media outlets which are not contextualising their critiques of Granger’s action are wittingly and unwittingly aiding that scenario.
Now to Granger and the government. I have had three weeks to reflect on my original position on the President’s action. And in the face of closer study and the ruthless mass response to the President’s decision, I remain committed to my original position that while the President’s unilateral action is consistent with the letter of the law, it was a politically unwise, if not senseless decision.
The only political reward that the decision has reaped for him is that it has whipped his supporters into line—the unreason and tribal instincts I referenced above. This may be a good thing for the coalition which has not been enjoying the full confidence of its constituency. But it now has the burden of maintaining this new-found embrace—something it struggled to do in its first two years in office and, in my estimation, seems incapable of doing.
In any case, the negative outcomes of the decision far outstrip that single positive. The decision has handed the PPP, at least for now, a formal-legal justification for its ongoing campaign to delegitimise the government and undermine its integrity and capacity to govern fairly and sensibly. This campaign by the PPP was gaining slow traction, but, since the president’s action, it has gained mainstream credibility. The PPP’s false alarms now appear to be the truth to its supporters and to a critical mass of coalition-skeptics. Given the PNC’s history of authoritarianism, even though the essence of the president’s action is lawful, its form—the way he discharged that lawful authority– gives the impression of autocracy to his detractors and to skeptics.
My friend Barrington Brathwaite and long-time PNC member James McAllister have asked me to explain what I would have done to solve the tension that Granger faced—the tension between the constitutional and the political. Well I would have set out to achieve the outcome of either a) forcing Jagdeo to give me a workable list or be exposed as the culprit or b) locating my unilateral action within a democratic framework.
That the president failed to do either is what makes its action politically unwise or senseless. You see, the test of democracy is not just conforming to the letter of the law—that is for your hardcore supporters and the legal purists; it is also about your actions appearing to be just, to be fair and not to be discriminatory towards any group, particularly your political foes. This is where I think the president calculated wrongly or didn’t calculate at all.
As Freddy Kissoon and Tacuma Ogunseye have argued– and I hold the same position– in the face of Jagdeo’s obstinacy, the president should have embarked on his own consultation. He should have consulted with his partners within the coalition and with the wider Civil Society, particularly those that are representative of his constituents. I am sure that had he done this, he would have mobilised them to go out and bat on his behalf, but critically, he would have been alerted to the political pitfalls of unilateralism, even if it’s constitutional. In the end, he would have given his eventual action democratc credibility beyond the letter of the constitution.
In that regard, I think my party’s statement is only partly true. While the WPA is correct that there is no constitutional requirement that it must be consulted on a matter that has to be decided by the President and the opposition leader, it is wrong to believe that the President does not have a political and ethical responsibility to consult with his coalition partners. His failure to so in this instance, has fed the PPP’s narrative that he is autocratic. This government has suffered from a patent lack of consultation, which is the antithesis of democratic governance, particularly when there is a coalition government.
The president’s action has compromised the WPA and the AFC. Those parties had no option but to support the president’s action, even though they had nothing to do with it—they are part of the government. It would have looked bad for the government for them to disassociate from the government on this defining matter.
But as a result of that unflinching and necessary solidarity, those parties are now weakened in the eyes of important sections of the population who see them as spineless and as willing tools of an autocratic PNC. And this is not just confined to PPP supporters– my knowledge of Guyanese political sociology tells me that there is a critical section of African-Guyanese, Amerindians and Indian-Guyanese who will not vote for the PNC as PNC, but will do so for the PNC as part of a coalition. I hear from those people every day and speak to them on the streets of Guyana all the time.
Those in the leadership of the PNC who believe otherwise are living in a make-believe world. In the interest of maintaining the integrity and appeal of the coalition, the president and the PNC must always try to avoid compromising these junior partners because it is these parties, not the PNC, which affords the coalition a democratic image. Whether the PNC likes it or not, the truth is that it has a bad democratic history and image, even among some of its constituencies.
And part of the failure of the coalition is the PNC’s top leadership’s stubbornness on this issue—they do not grasp that the PNC by itself and the PNC as part of a coalition are two vastly different dynamics in the eyes of many Guyanese. That is why the PPP goes to great lengths to paint the AFC and WPA as appendages of the PNC, rather than as independent partners. The President’s unilateral decision and the inevitable solidarity of the AFC and WPA have combined to weaken the coalition’s democratic image.
Given what was developing, the coalition should have realised that the matter was turning into a battle of credibility. It, therefore, should have unleashed its own public education and narrative. I am not talking here about legal technicalities, but about a political narrative that correctly located Jagdeo as the underminer of the system, that explained the PPP’s hypocrisy on the matter, that explained the history of the Carter Formula and present the President as the one who wanted consensus and not unilateralism, even though the constitution allows the latter. This government, to its detriment, depends on PR rather that PN (Political Narratives). Where were the likes of Aubrey Norton, Tacuma Ogunseye and Gary Best before the decision was made?
So here we are on the morning after. Constitutional reform and social cohesion—two of the government’s biggest policy interventions would not happen, because the PPP would not play ball. Parliament would be transformed into a war zone. Ordinary African and Indian-Guyanese would cuss out in the worst racist ways.
The soul of the nation will be forever bruised. The PPP would not accept the results of any elections, unless it wins. The AFC is most likely saying goodbye to Indian- Guyanese votes. The WPA’s capacity to speak to the reasonable side of Guyanese will be greatly diminished. Not that these outcomes would not have occurred in the absence of the President’s decision, but his decision has hastened them.
Even if the courts agree with those of us who believe that the President did not violate the constitution, such a decision would not turn back the political damage. The president’s action is not the root cause of these developments, but it was the perfect occasion for their flowering.
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