I explained in One Caribbean and Other Essays that one of issues with Caribbean politics has been a two-party system in which Caribbean countries typically rotate between two corrupt political parties. As George Lemming, the Barbadian author, explained, there typically is no significant ideological difference between these parties either. This two-party system has also been very divisive. This is especially true in Guyana where parties divide people not only along party lines, but racial lines as well.
In the first place the People’s National Congress emerged as a breakaway group from the People’s Progressive Party. After failing to take control of the PPP from Cheddi Jagan, Forbes Burnham created his own political party. The split between the PNC and PPP was essentially the result of a fight over power and the relationship between the two parties still is a relationship between two parties that are vying for power. The PNC has been in power for much of Guyana’s history. Guyana became independent in 1966 and it was not until 1992 that the PPP came into power. The PPP then remained in power until 2015, so both parties have enjoyed long stretches of political rule in Guyana.
To remain in power the PNC engaged in many repressive and underhanded tactics. This included rigging elections and stifling the opposition through censorship and at times using violent force. Burnham also declared that paramountcy of the PNC political party over the government. Burnham was quoted as saying: “God says that before you were I was. The party says to the government before you were, we were. The government has got to be in our system a subordinate agency to the party.”
Given the PNC’s history of undermining democratic institutions in Guyana to establish its own hegemony it is not altogether surprising to see Dr. David Hinds now raising concerns about how the A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) government is being operated. Dr. Hinds explained that the biggest error that the APNU has made so far “is the overconcentration of political decision making within the Government and trying to manage the coalition as if it were a single-party administration.” Hinds is a member of the Working People’s Alliance, which is one of the members of the APNU that has effectively rendered “helpless” as Dr. Hinds described it. Dr. Hinds also lamented that politicians in Guyana still have a “dominant-party” mindset. In the case of the APNU, the PNC is the dominant party in the coalition.
These are all issues which were very apparent within the first few months of the APNU coming to power. Tacuma Ogunseye, who is also a member of the WPA, complained shortly after the APNU took power that no meeting was held to discuss the responsibilities of the executive members of the coalition. Ogunseye complained: “I find it hard to accept that the common courtesies and respect for comrades which civil political relations dictate, in this case was not followed. Nowhere in the civilised world are parties, which are engaged in alliances with each other, treated with such disdain.” After being in power for a few months, the APNU also decided to raise the salaries of government ministers. Guyana is a country where some people are so poor that they have rely on money sent to them by relatives living overseas to feed themselves, yet the APNU saw fit to increase their own salaries before taking serious action to alleviate Guyana’s poverty. This disregard for the poor in Guyana was seen again by the government’s decision to provide $500,000 rentals houses for two junior ministers. This was a move that members of the WPA decried as being “immoral” and “unconscionable”, but this behavior is consistent with the mentality of the dominant ruling parties in Guyana.
The PPP and the PNC have been two political parties that have operated with a “dominant-party” mentality and a complete disregard for poor Guyanese. In 2015 when the Guyanese people elected the APNU there was a general feeling of hope that Guyana’s politics would finally be transformed into something that was not only inclusive of all Guyanese, but that would have been a break with the misrule of the PPP. Guyana was smiling again after the elections, as Abigail James put it. Unfortunately, thus far the PNC has demonstrated much of the same desire for dominance and disregard for the poor that has plagued Guyana’s politics since independence.