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Former President, David Granger last week formally turned down an invitation to a meeting of ex-presidents that is being convened by current president Irfaan Ali. Mr. Granger’s response was eagerly awaited by many who contended that the meeting is nothing more than an opportunistic attempt at dialogue through the backdoor. I said as much in last week’s column. Granger’s non-attendance has a dual effect—it denies the PPP a political value it needs while at the same time he gives his supporters hope that he is prepared to fight back on their behalf.
It should not surprise any keen observer of Guyanese politics that there is that kind of attitude to what under normal circumstances would be a low-keyed confab. At the root of the moves and countermoves and the debates and discussions that has ensued is the very legitimacy of the government. All governments regardless of the circumstances under which they come to power crave legitimacy. And this government certainly does. The circumstances under which it took office has led to a further deepening of ethnic division in Guyana which in turn robs the government of the cross-ethnic sign of approval it desires. When one adds to that the highly partisan manner in which it has gone about governing these past four months, one can safely conclude that it faces a deep crisis of legitimacy, whereby half of the country does not believe that it has a right to govern.
This attitude by the wider base of the opposition towards the government is given life by the formal refusal of the organised opposition to recognise the government’s legitimacy. In fact, the president and his government have stated that a necessary condition for inter-party dialogue is the opposition’s recognition of the government’s right to govern. Even that not so veiled threat has not caused a shift in the opposition ranks. It is against that background that the significance of the proposed presidential confab must be analysed.
My view is that the meeting is another route undertaken by the PPP to secure legitimacy. The problem, as Mr. Granger correctly points out, is that the proposed meeting lacks substance. There is no set menu of issues to be discussed. Hence, an absence of political and policy relevance. Minister of Governance Gail Teixeira has since described it as an “overture” for more formal engagements. Therein lies the hole that the PPP has dug for itself—it wants to have its cake and eat it at the same time. It wants something from Mr. Granger but does not want to give anything in return.
Mr. Granger’s attendance at a meeting bereft of substance would have put him in opposition to the non-recognition stance taken by Leader of the Opposition, Mr. Joseph Harmon. Had Granger gone to a routine meeting, the PPP would have spun his presence as an endorsement of its clear attempt to gain legitimacy without giving up an inch of political ground. The PPP has long favoured an “inclusive” governance which included formal dialogue which is not translated into real power sharing. Granger’s refusal to attend is a big blow to the PPP’s tactic. In typical Granger fashion, he was not rude about it, but the intent is clear. It is good politics to link his attendance or non-attendance to issues that affect his constituency—issues the PPP would never touch at this time.
While Mr. Granger, given his more conciliatory approach to governance, may have been tempted to attend the meeting in that spirit, in the end his non-attendance is the correct one. His support base is no doubt elated at his decision. But beyond that he has withheld from the PPP something of value that it desperately needs. In that regard he has increased the leverage of the Coalition in future engagements. In divided polities, no side unilaterally gives ground. Granger’s decision, then, is exactly what the doctor orders.
More of Dr. Hinds’ writings and commentaries can be found on his Blog “The Open Word” by Dr. David Hinds on his website www.guyanacaribbeanpolitics.news. Send comments to email@example.com