THE AFC has been in the news quite a bit this past week. The Stabroek News, which played an instrumental role in the birth of the party, has been asking probing questions about its role in the selection of the GECOM chair. The AFC, for its part, had long indicated that it was not consulted on the selection. It told the media that its leader was summoned by the president and informed of his decision.
The AFC leader then accompanied the president in his brief meeting with the opposition leader. Then this week, the Canadian chapter of the party leaked parts of an email indicating that the leader and chairman of the AFC had advised the president, during a cabinet break, that he could legally make a unilateral appointment.
So, what can be concluded from the above scenario? The leaked email has not changed anything. I think that the AFC is correct in its insistence that it was not consulted. The advice given to the President was informally done and cannot be classified as consultation. But, it is clear that the AFC’s top leadership has had a position on the matter that was circulated to selected members. What is not clear is whether the party’s leadership organs gave their stamp of approval to this position.
If the party’s Canadian chapter’s stance on the matter is anything to go by, there is divided opinion within the ranks. This should not be surprising, for the AFC was birthed as a strenuously anti-establishment party with a very strong anti-PNC bias. The problem with Guyanese politics is that its bi-polarity forces third-parties, from the UF to WPA to AFC, to enter into alliances with one or the other big party, if they are to become part of the formal governance structure. If the AFC and the WPA were to dogmatically hold on to their original positions of non-cooperation with the big parties, they would be permanently sidelined from government.
The challenge for these third parties is, having become part of the government, how do they collectively govern while maintaining their fidelity to their original charter. And it seems to me that neither the AFC nor the WPA has satisfactorily worked out that dilemma. Their job is made much more difficult partly by the PPP’s tenacity as an opposition which leaves little space for self-critique and critical dissent within the government ranks.
And partly, by a persistent, ingrained praxis of important sections of the PNC’s leadership that measures the coalition’s success in terms of the potential votes that each party brings.
There would be no coalition government without the PNC, but the PNC would not be in government today without the AFC and the WPA. The WPA’s role within the APNU was critical in that group’s breakthrough in 2011.
There are sections of the African-Guyanese middle class, which bolted from the Burnhamite PNC in the 1970s, returned when Hoyte moved away from Burnhamism, left when Corbin took over the reins and returned when the APNU was formed. The Indian-Guyanese rebels who moved to the Ramjattan-Nagamootoo (not Trotman’s) AFC in 2011 would have never touched the PNC as PNC—they reluctantly embraced the coalition because of the APNU, not the PNC.
The survival of the coalition, therefore, depends a lot on the ability of the WPA and the AFC to prove that their presence in the government amounts to policy content and directions consistent with their orientations. In other words, the coalition’s policy agenda must reflect, to some extent, policies that are associated with those parties. Second, they must be able to temper the inevitable PNC penchant for domination and marginalisation of partners. In the absence of those two things, the coalition which brought the government to power would collapse.
The PNC does not have a monopoly on African- Guyanese political behaviour and the AFC’s ability to hold the Indian -Guyanese dissident vote is contingent on its ability to show them in action and policies that the party is not a PNC “tag-along.”
The WPA’s attractiveness to the Guyanese political instinct from its birth to the present is predicated on the party’s ability to question and temper out-of-control power and to bring to bear on the country’s politics an articulation of vision and ideas consistent with the big picture. Whether those of us who are now left as the core of that party like it or not, without that appeal, the WPA is useless to the country.
The jury is out on whether the party has been able to honour its responsibility to government while maintaining its reason for being. Many WPA people tend to be angry with what is seen as Freddie Kissoon’s unreasonable dismissal of the WPA as a dead party, but for me he asks the question—what is your reason for being alive? And the WPA must contend with that question every day.
Having said the above, the PNC has a big responsibility to make the coalition work. It must balance its appeal to its constituency with a concern for the tenuous situation that its partners face. The party has to learn to share its constituency with its partners—that’s the logic of partnership politics. From where I stand, I am ready to say that the PPP would return to power if the present coalition does not contest the next election as a unified entity or if the AFC and the WPA cannot make the case to Guyanese that their presence in government matters. Every time the PNC section of the coalition behaves in ways that look like domination and authoritarianism, it hurts the AFC and the WPA and in turn hurts its own chances of returning to power.
Unlike other commentators, I am very clear that President Granger’s comments in Atlanta are a tacit acceptance that the PNC never fairly won on its own. What can be concluded from that acceptance, of course, is open to debate. Partisan hawks can be a difficult bunch to deal with—for them, the party is the beginning and the end. Granger was smart to throw the party faithful some Burnhamite red meat—he had to give them something. But I am not sure that he knows that Burnhamist ideas are a thing of the past that many African- Guyanese have no relationship to and don’t care about—the political world has moved on.
If the coalition behaves as a partnership replete with open and publicly known consultations and consensus policies, it stands a chance of maintaining its edge at the next election. If the PNC’s leadership continues to hog the power of decision-making and treat the AFC and WPA as appendages, it will lose. Those who will ask the silly question– what the AFC and WPA bring to the table– would discover in 2020 what their absence or weakened presence brings.
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