Support Village Voice News With a Donation of Your Choice.
Why the two major parties are never dead and will always remain permanent forces
Above, I have paraphrased Alexis de Tocqueville’s views on democracy. It was necessary to capture the essence of what I wish to discuss. Tribalism, as you would have observed. In the best sense of the word, it is that dogged and fatalistic commitment to one’s ethnic allegiances. It is that inclination that is never up for negotiation. It is the crystalized commitment. Above all, it is our perennial problem. But today, here and now, we are not going to have another usual discussion on our intractable ethnic problem. We are not going to do the good old ad nauseam crying to the desert. We are not going to chase the seawall wind and belabor what is well known. This column will not play the broken record yet again.
Instead, I am writing to show you that despite times of serious internal turmoil or disaffection among their bases, the two major parties remain as strong as ever. Reason being, tribalism ebbs and flows. It might take an ephemeral national mood swing and proceed on facts and logic but invariably it will recoil and come back with a stronger force. As a consequence, as long as the two major parties are conduits for tribal inclinations, you can never count them out.
THE 1992 PNC RIFT
The year was 1994. The place was old Georgetown. The specific location was Robb Street. Outside the PPP headquarters, a few members of the Central Executive Committee gathered for their customary informal intellectual gaff. They were beaming. Wry smiles and glee decorated their relaxed faces and a sense of general happiness permeated the conspiratorial air. In reference to the imminent 1994 local government elections, one member of the group remarked: ‘this is it, we got them, they are divided and dead’. Further, he made the bold assertion that this will be the first time in the nation’s history, the People’s Progressive Party will control of the Georgetown Mayor and City Council after these municipal elections. His merry naivety was influenced by the dire state of affairs over at Congress Place. It was two years after the 1992 elections. The PNC’s base was demoralized and some vowed never to support the party again because Desmond Hoyte was a ‘sellout’. There was a big split in the party between Desmond Hoyte and Hamilton Green over how the 1992 elections were handled. Green was expelled from the party. In 1994, he formed the Forum for Democracy which eventually morphed into Good Green Guyana (GGG). This internecine battle gave the PPP officials supreme confidence that the municipality was there for the taking. The political calculus was: Green will split the votes, there will be a low turnout, general apathy and the PPP will emerge with the largest block of votes.
Once, the political bells began to ring and the dog whistles went out, the based showed up en masse and gave Green the largest block of votes. Added to this, 5 years after vowing to never support the part again, about 30 000 people filled the streets of Georgetown for protests which coupled with a successful election petition, fell the government of the day. It was the biggest display of the strength and power of the PNC. Tribalism recoiled.
THE ALI CANDIDACY
Against the backdrop of losing the 2015 election and endless rumors about massive divisions in the party, the PPP central exec met to consider its next presidential candidate. If the reports are to be believed, it was arguably the most divisive of times. Unrelenting Presidential ambitions were everywhere. Internal party balkanization had seemingly reached its zenith. There was even an unverified report which suggested there was a scuffle between the General Secretary and a former President. Thus, it was easy to conclude that this party may be in a disarray and politically weak. However, if you have any appreciation for the religious zeal rooted in tribalism that comes with support for the two major, you would not proceed from such erroneous assumptions.
Ali emerged. He had a thick and well-established resume and experience. But those who were waiting in the leadership wings for years, said ‘no way’. They argued: he is not at his reputational best at the moment and can’t win national elections. The rancor reached its apogee. Someone behind the heavily fortified walls of Freedom House leaked damning information on his qualifications in an attempt to bury the candidacy. It was a big fight.
Despite all the noise, Mohammed Irfaan Ali emerged victoriously. The reactions on social media from some sections were lukewarm. Some within the PPP orbit expressed disgust and vowed not to support the party again. These reactions created a false sense of complacency and led some in the coalition orbit to opine: ‘they are dead, no way they are winning the next elections.’ They dared to question the omnipotence of tribalism. Added to this, the coalition government was embarking on unprecedented development in the areas connected to the party’s bases. Leguan got asphalt roads for the first time. The coalition orbit was confident that they could break the back of tribalism and render the PPP weak in their strongholds.
There was the usual erroneous assumption that development and good governance could trump ethnological inclinations. We have seen this movie before, it is called ‘Desmond Hoyte: the hero who almost saved Guyana’.
On September 27, 2019, President Granger announced the date for the 2020 elections. Despite seemingly still earth shattered from the successful passage of the no-confidence motion, the party apparatchiks in coalition circles were bullish on their chances at the polls. The purported internecine battles in the PPP were their reference points for political optimism.
As you know, the polls were held. Controversy erupted. As expected, the base aligned themselves immediately. In a strategic display of its political prowess, the PPP organized a nationwide struggle to stop the dubious results. They were successful. They formed the government. Tribalism recoiled.
THE PRESENT POST-2020 ELECTIONS PERIOD
Insofar as PNC politics is concerned, it is déjà vu all over again. It is Hoyte 2.0. Here we are yet again. The base is upset over how things were handled in the aftermath of the elections. Apathy has raised its head again. There are the usual cries: ‘I done with them’, ‘me aint voting again’. Arrows are being thrown in the leader’s direction. Challenges are everywhere. The PPP-led government is executing a plan to win hearts and souls in the urban strongholds. There is talk of serious internal battles. Due to all of this, there is now the false conclusion from opposing camps that the party is powerless. It behooves those who understand the political sociology of this country to pen words of caution, nay, refutation of this wild loose assertion. Never question the tribal Colossus which bestrides these 214, 000 square kilometers.
When the time comes and ‘Let the blow blow blow’ bellows again from the speaker atop the party bus and green and yellow t-shirts are made available, the supporters will align en masse. Tribalism will recoil. Ethnic allegiances cannot be washed away with lofty speeches. It has no regard for reason and logic. It could care less about the plans and proposals that can help or develop its communities. It is not interested in Obama-esque or Churchillian leadership with a face that is different from its tribe. You cannot woo it with development. Every time you think it is gone or ebbed, it will come back with a greater force. Those primal instincts can only be controlled and quelled by constitutional arrangements.