Revelations, via leaked e-mails from the AFC camp, on President Granger’s unilateral choice of the GECOM Chairman, and most recently his choice of the replacement Opposition GECOM Commissioner, reveal severe stresses in the relationship between APNU and the AFC in the coalition Government. A few months ago, a unilateral decision by the President to demote the Minister of Education, a leader of the WPA, a partner with the PNC in the APNU coalition, also revealed stresses in that coalition.
But behind these proximate causes lie deeper structural reasons for the dissonance in decision-making in the coalitions – within APNU and in the APNU/AFC combine. These emanate from the nature of the coalitions these parties formed, their relative sizes, and their refusal to accept their ethnic bases openly. The permutations and combinations of possible coalitions are almost infinite; but, in general, they form a continuum if we group them according to: (a) How and why they were formed (b) Whether they were intended to be permanent or not, and (c) Whether the component parties remain separate or combined in structure. But coalitions are first and foremost coalitions of various interests represented by the member parties, and these must be made explicit.
From this perspective, there are mainly three types of coalitions: the “alliance”, the “coalition of commitment”, and the “coalition of convenience”. The “alliance” seeks to address one or more major cleavages by the fusion of two or more parties. Typically, they aim to be permanent, and in tune with this aspiration, field a common slate, and promote a common programme under a common leadership. APNU is an “alliance” involving four parties and the PNC, but for all intents and purposes, the primary coalescence is between the PNC, the WPA and GAP.
But in terms of representation of interests in a polity split for half a century along ethnic lines, only African-Guyanese and Indigenous Peoples’ interests were credibly represented. Long regarded as antagonistic to each other, after the 1992 elections, the remnants of the once “multi-ethnic” WPA gradually began to make common cause with the always African-dominated PNC, as they claimed the PPP/C was not addressing the “marginalisation” of the African-Guyanese community. The African-Guyanese component of the PPP/Civic was adjudged to be “tokenistic”. GAP openly represented Indigenous peoples.
The “coalition of convenience” is driven by one consideration – to form a government that would keep out other parties, paradigmatically as with the UF and the PNC in 1964.
Coalitions of this type are very unstable, and few survive their term of government for several reasons. Firstly, their focus is totally electoral – adding up seats – while ignoring the cleavages and forces that made them form separate parties and run on separate platforms in the first place. These differences inevitably surface later, when policies and programmes are formulated and implemented.
Secondly, there is the “disproportion of size”. The larger party sees itself as the senior member, to which the smaller should defer; while the latter considers itself as an equal, due to its strategic position in “tipping the balance”. Thirdly, since the capture of power was their prime motivator, they constantly manoeuvre to monopolise the same. We saw the dénouement of this tendency when the PNC made the UF impotent between 1964-1968.
The “coalition of commitment” can be seen as falling between the other two other models, and attempts to bridge the differences in interests between two parties by crafting a platform that spells out areas of compromise.
The Cummingsburg Accord purported to be an attempt by APNU and AFC to form such a coalition, but the AFC never explicitly spelt out they were representing Indian-Guyanese interests to constitute a “national multi-ethnic coalition” with APNU, as they boasted. Yet, in the leaked emails, AFC’s Dr Somair and Minister Cathy Hughes identified and bemoaned President Granger’s unilateralism as fatally affecting those Indian interests. It was obvious the AFC was caught in its own artifice, and APNU saw the coalition as one of “convenience” and exploited its disproportion of size.
The President’s selection of the WPA’s candidate for the GECOM Commissioner over the AFC’s is a further signal the latter is now seen as impotent.
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