Nov 27, 2017
The talk in political society in Guyana at the moment and maybe in general when government and politics are the subject matter in the beer garden or the restaurant or in the office is the survival of the Alliance For Change (AFC). What follows here are theoretical notes which cannot be exhaustive in a newspaper column.
The subject of the declining fortunes of the AFC will take several columns. What I will do is to spread this series over a period of time, beginning with the theoretical backdrop here. I hope to pen another article in a week’s time.
One of the enduring differences between the post-colonial world and the industrialised, post-modern West is the strength of civil society and the durability of what Fareed Zakaria referred to as liberal constitutionalism. One of the great strengths of American society is these two factors. In the dominant days of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, both of these societal characteristics were never eroded.
Trump is going to hurt American democracy, but it will survive to the point where civil society and liberal constitutionalism will promote an acceptable alternative to American Trumpism. In India, the Gandhi dynasty will rise again, but Indian democracy will resist and defeat it because political society and civil society and constitutionalism have never weakened in India since Independence.
In Jamaica and Barbados, while democratic traditions in sister countries were falling apart, these two countries retained their democratic structures. In very few countries in the colonial world, would we see a “Bruce Golding phenomenon” as we saw in Jamaica? When civil society and liberal constitutionalism are weakened because of the rise of authoritarianism, it takes an enormous amount of time for fresh political parties to be born outside of clientelistic arrangements and for them to become nationalists, competitive parties. This is what happened in Southern Europe in the late sixties (Portugal, Spain and Greece) and the Southern Cone of South America (Chile, Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina).
In both of these parts of South America and Europe, when democracy and the rule of law returned, the birth of new political parties was clientelist formations. They were not your traditional programmatic parties that the world saw in the Third World during the struggle against colonialism and in the democratic West.
It is against this background that one must understand the nature of the Alliance For Change. It was born as a clientelistic entity because of the reality of post-Burnham Guyana. The AFC is the only major political party that came into being when Guyana had lost both civil society and liberal constitutionalism. It had to be different then from the only other major party that was born outside of the existence of the PPP and PNC, that is, the WPA. The AFC came on the scene in a period when the protection the WPA had from the rule of law, civil society and constitutional structures in the seventies were either limping along or were moribund. It therefore had a different ontology to that of the PPP, PNC and WPA.
For the purpose of this polemic, I will leave out the Liberator Party of Dr Gunraj Kumar and the Democratic Labour Movement of Paul Tennassee because though they were very active in the seventies, I do not consider them as major outfits in that period. The only major parties at that time were the PPP, PNC and the WPA with the WPA coming into being at a time when Guyana still had civil society and liberal constitutionalism intact, despite the coming of an authoritarian model under President Burnham.
Let’s offer one example of what the WPA enjoyed that the AFC never experienced. When Dr. Josh Ramsammy was shot in 1971, civil society rose up. UG was in revolt and a delegation was formed to put pressure on the police force. It consisted of the major leaders of civil society in the media, trade unionism, legal community, business and UG. Leading the delegation to see the Police Commissioner was the Vice-Chancellor of UG, Professor Dennis Irving.
In 2010, when the AFC was born, civil society was either dead or moribund or had become political pawns. For example, the Vice Chancellor of UG was now an electoral candidate for the ruling party.
The AFC came on the scene when the Jagdeo regime had taken on complexions of semi-fascism and the ethnic discourse had become morbid and corrupted. The state had become criminalized. The AFC then had no motive or desire to be a programmatic or transformational party as the three traditional ones- PPP, PNC, WPA.
Like in Southern Europe and the Southern Cone of South America, it became a clientelistic outfit serving a narrow purpose. When it came into power, it carried that weakness with it. More later.