Managing coalitions is always a delicate undertaking. The major partner invariably tries to manage the Government in its own image while the minor partner or partners try to prevent this from happening. If they succeed in doing so, the latter accumulate influence for themselves within the Government. If they fail, they either leave the coalition, as the UF did in the 1960s, or they stay and function as toothless poodles with little say in the overall direction of the Government. This, to my mind, is the big challenge for the two substantive junior partners in the present coalition government– WPA and AFC.
The PNC, the senior partner in the coalition, naturally would want to monopolise power within the Government. Its membership expects it to do so—understandably they are not swayed by the reality that their party is in power because it was part of something bigger than itself. All they know is that the PNC is the big party and it must act like the big party.
At the level of the APNU, the PNC has had to contend with the unpredictable presence of the WPA. I say unpredictable, because as a non-traditional party, the WPA, more than the other parties, allows more plurality of views and opinions to enter its deliberations at the highest level. Hence, one never knows which tendency would come to the fore at any given time. It is, therefore, very difficult to contain the WPA. At the level of the coalition, the PNC must be mindful of the reality of the Cummingsburg Accord which guarantees the AFC 40 per cent of the Cabinet and substantial parliamentary representation. The AFC has a clear and present veto—it could bring down the Government anytime it chooses to.
The PNC has neutralised the potential WPA threat by sidelining the APNU, in which the WPA is the second largest partner. While the WPA has a big voice within the APNU, it has a very tiny voice within the Government. But the APNU has little to no say in the Government and despite the WPA’s belated pleadings, that arrangement is not likely to change much, if any at all. I am not optimistic that the PNC would cede much political space to the WPA and the WPA has not yet worked out the delicate balance of oversighting Government while being a very junior partner in the Government.
At the level of the Government, while the Cabinet is the theoretical centre of power, under our system the presidency is a separate and more powerful centre of power. And, of course the PNC controls the presidency whose power flows directly from the Constitution. The AFC found out this brutal truth after the fact—while they negotiated a disproportionate chunk of Cabinet posts and parliamentary seats, these did not amount to substantive power.
The AFC’s only real power is the power to topple the Government while the PNC has a majority in the Cabinet and the National Assembly in addition to the all-powerful presidency.
This brings me to the recent happenings within the AFC. The inevitable contradictions within that party is now out in the open. The AFC was created with the support of external forces and influential internal forces as an alternative to the PPP and the PNC. They all soon learn that the PNC and PPP may be weakened, but they are going nowhere. The AFC then became the broker party, the minority party with enough votes and influence to become the rulers by default. That too never materialised. Then it became the party of non-cooperation, never joining with the two big parties. And that too was a pie in the sky.
Because the AFC leadership did not take time to study the history of Third Parties in Guyana and the Caribbean, it kept going over the same ground that others had already unsuccessfully trodden. Finally, with the PPP on the rampage and Ramjatan and Nagamootoo assuming the leadership of the AFC, a section of the Indian Guyanese elite and electorate embraced the party. The AFC was thus transformed into a junior Indian Guyanese party.
Those Indian Guyanese wanted the PPP out of power, but they did not empower the AFC to replace the PPP with the PNC. A win-win arrangement for that constituency would have been a PPP-AFC Government. But the PPP’s arrogance pushed the AFC into an alliance with the APNU, of which the PNC was part. The AFC bit the bullet and formed the coalition.
It congratulated itself for outmaneuvering the PNC-APNU via the Cummingsburg Accord and its Indian Guyanese elites bought the package. They convinced a reduced number of Indian Guyanese voters—but enough– that this was the way to go. The rest as the say is history.
Once in office, the AFC soon forgot about the political dynamics that brought them into Government. They never sought to balance the exercise of ministerial office with holding together the tenuous dynamics within the party. As, I said before, they became power-drunk. I was not surprised. Here were great patriots who had put up their hands to be counted, but apart from Nagamootoo and to some extent Ramjattan, they had no history of struggle and sacrifice—the came to politics from the top.
In the end they ignored their reason for being. They had no conversations with that fragile Indian constituency that brought them to office — the did not try to broaden it. They spent more time in Georgetown than in the Correntyne, West Berbice and Essequibo. Further, they, not the PNC, became the biggest proponents of Government orthodoxy—going after those of us who asked questions of the Government.
The party functioned through the ministries. The never sought to serve as a check on the PNC. Perhaps they couldn’t, since they had played all their cards in the negotiations of the Cummingsburg Accord. They surrendered to the PNC control of the Local Government Elections, because they couldn’t go to the Indian Guyanese constituency and ask for their votes. The AFC leadership from all indications decided that their only relevance lies in Government. But, there is not a single government policy that bears the imprint of the AFC.
Nigel Hughes, the party’s link to African Guyanese, left. Raphael Trotman, who had left or was shoved out when the Indian elites took ownership of the party, came back as leader but the party is still controlled by the Ramjattan-Nagamootoo faction. By the time it came time for the selection of the GECOM chair, they had nothing to bargain with.
The party has now called for the renegotiation of the Cummingsburg Accord. But what is their bargaining chip? I have my views on that, but I will wait and see. For me, the agony emanating from those emails are partly the result of the logic of coalition building, but mostly the result of the AFC’s own political blunders.
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