The Ethnic Balance of Power has Changed

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The Guyana elections have come and gone. The PPP has been given the reins of government. In less than four months it has consolidated itself in power in ways that were not anticipated by even the most cynical observer. The arrogance that has to date characterized its tenure has far outstripped anything that we have seen before. Never in our history has a government acted with such disdain for the opposition and for the country at large.

I have never in my long observation of Guyanese politics seen such a limp opposition. But in hindsight, this outcome should not surprise us. In politics as in life, you reap what you sow. The decisions taken by the Coalition when it held power have helped to shape the post-election environment. It has also greatly shaped the state of the current opposition. In that regard it is unfair to lay the blame on the parliamentary opposition that is in effect the leadership of the opposition. These mostly young men and women, many of them new to politics, have been made the sacrificial lambs for the errors of  those who wielded power over the last five years.

In ethnically divided societies like ours, the behavior by the rival representatives of the groups is dictated by the scope they allow each other. Because each group in Guyana has the capacity to undermine the rule of the other, the leaders have always been careful about how far they would stray from their spheres of influence. The Burnham-Hoyte government was always mindful of the PPP and the ability of its Indian Guyanese constituency to sabotage the economy. Not even an authoritarian government could have stopped that. When it regained power in 1992, the PPP government was always constrained by African Guyanese dominance of the armed forces and their superior street capacity. And the Coalition in its short stint  felt the full force of Indian Guyanese dominance of the commercial and agricultural sectors and the willingness of the PPP to  utilize these forces in pursuit of its praxis of destabilization.

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The mutual threat of retaliation is an accepted political weapon. It often leads to peaceful co-existence between adversaries. There is always the possibility that it can spill over into conflict. But more often than not it contains conflict. This model of the mutual threat of retaliation has contained sustained conflict since 1964. Despite the aggression of the Jagdeo government during the last PPP tenure and the weakening of the PNC under Corbin, the paradigm was maintained.

But, alas, since the PPP returned to power in August, it has acted with scant regard for any  real or potential constraints on its actions. It has literally walked all over the opposition and has in the process reduced the African Guyanese community to a sate of weeping and gnashing of teeth. The constant use of the police to name, shame, prosecute and persecute the elites of that community is unprecedented and alarming. They have  used those same armed  forces to swiftly put down mass protests  while the major opposition meekly watches.

Are we seeing the end of this mutual-constraint paradigm? I think one can safely say that we are at least seeing a change in the balance of power between the two sides that has the potential of ending the paradigm. The question is what has caused this shift. This change in the balance of power to my mind arose from two factors.

First, the manner in which the Granger government governed, in particular its insensitivity to Guyana’s ethnic dynamics has left its African Guyanese support base weakened and  exposed. Its mode of governance  did not in the end protect the areas of comparative advantage of African Guyanese in the political, cultural and economic spheres. It had no clear policy towards the armed forces and the public service workers. It had no urban strategy or Village Renewal  trajectory.

Second, the Regime Change that was utilized to oust the Coalition has effectively turned the Superpowers, the CARICOM  leadership, the Hemispheric organizations  and some local institutions such as the media, the courts and the leadership of the Armed Forces against African Guyanese. These forces have in effect taken a side in the Ethnic competition  and rivalry between the two groups. The influence of the Superpowers has in the final analysis shaped the changed the attitude of key institutions in Guyana and the wider Caribbean.

This shift of the balance of power is dangerous for Guyana. It encourages ethnic domination that would have lasting negative effect on the country. As things stand, African Guyanese can no longer lay claim to the two-party system or even the one-party system. At best, they have entered the zone of the No-Party system whereby they cannot depend



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