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Political distrust have never been more pronounced
Over the last three weeks I believe that I have demonstrated that the country examples chosen by the Stabroek News editorial of 20th February 2022 (the editorial) in its analysis of the USAID report ‘Democracy, Human Rights and Governance assessment’ in no way undermine the report’s ‘main conclusion … that the broader context of consensus and inclusion are the underlying challenges for Guyanese citizens and impede the framing of a common vision of the country’s future. The ruling party, the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) and the opposition coalition the A Partnership for National Unity and Alliance for Change (APNU+AFC) need to find a way to form a functioning democracy based on power-sharing (PS) rather than a “winner takes all” mentality. This would ensure that the unprecedented wealth in oil reserves can be transparently and equitably managed for the benefit of all Guyanese.’ Still adhering to President Ali’s request for ‘objective’ analyses, here I shall consider some of the conceptual but no less questionable and propagandistic positions contained in the editorial.
According to the editorial, ‘there is not much appetite in the country for power-sharing, although at least one small party has adopted the idea as the foundation of its manifesto. Apart from various theoretical objections there is the practical one that the total absence of trust between our major parties would obviate any chance that such a system could be made to work in the present conditions. That said, it may be that the report for USAID did not have power-sharing in the strict political sense of that term in mind, and was just being somewhat careless with language given our context. For instance, the report also makes reference to inclusive democracy, as if the two terms were interchangeable, although they are not. Even the PPP/C says it seeks to promote inclusiveness, although it would not be in favour of power-sharing.’
Firstly, what is meant by ‘there is not much appetite in the country for power-sharing’? The reference to ‘one small party’ somewhat suggests the opposite, but Guyana does not have a substantial ‘united public opinion’: political opinion breaks along party/ethnic lines and it is appropriate that the USAID report spoke directly to the leadership of the PPP and APNU+AFC, for the establishment of PS is largely dependent on the political elites, and a case can be made that both parties do not want PS. In the absence of its historical majority, the PPP remains fixated on political dominance even if it could now only be secured by electoral manipulation, and the recent APNU+AFC government failed to fulfill a primary manifesto promise to establish a government of national unity.
However, when one is making recommendations concerning what is good for a country, what the parties ‘want’ is a secondary concern. The primary consideration must be what the country requires if it is to provide a good life for its people, and in this context what the parties want are obstacles to, if possible, be overcome or drivers that could help to make real what is necessary. The question then is: given the context, what is the strategy to arrive at the objective in a timely manner? Note too that what any single party wants is not final: the PNC did not want ‘voting at the place of poll’ in the late 1980s or the PPP the 2000 constitutional reforms, but they were made to have them by the mobilization strategies of the extant oppositions.
Secondly, the editorial claimed that ‘the total absence of trust between our major parties would obviate any chance that such a system could be made to work in the present conditions.’ If by ‘obviate’ is meant ‘hinder’ rather than ‘prevent’ the caution is commendable. Otherwise, the Good Friday Agreement in Northern Ireland, the agreement between the ANC and the Apartheid regime in South Africa, the 1995 Dayton agreement that created the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, etc. would not have happened. At a related level, why are people still falling over themselves to negotiate with Vladimir Putin?
The position about building trust is usually adopted by those who are benefiting from the status quo, for it is obvious that whatever the requisite degree of trust, it cannot possibly be built in the political conditions of competition and conflict that exist in Guyana. Trust would only develop in an environment in which interests are secured by way of peaceful collaboration and gradually increasing mutuality. Well this is 2022, two decades since the PPP committed itself to building trust but arguably political distrust and disunity have never been more pronounced but that party still feels comfortable uttering this drivel!
Thirdly, not long after, the 2000 constitutional reforms, former President Desmond Hoyte came to realise that notwithstanding the many new commissions/committees that facilitated greater inclusiveness, the winner-takes-all framework in which the constitution was lodged was an obstacle to good governance and development. So in 2003, the PNC published a paper calling for power-sharing and the PPP immediately responded with ‘Towards greater inclusive governance in Guyana: Building trust to achieve genuine political co-operation,’ in which it rejected the removal of the winner-takes-all system, claiming that new constitution provides sufficient space for the parties to collaborate and build trust and then there will be further inclusive governance! Therefore, the editorial’s suggestion that the authors of the USAID report were ‘careless with language’ by making reference to PS and inclusive democracy ‘as if the two terms were interchangeable, although they are not,’ appears a misconceptualisation. The concepts are not interchangeable: one subsumes the other, i.e. PS is the pinnacle of inclusivity.
Next week I will argue that the USAID report has weaknesses but by propagandistically jettisoning the main conclusion, contrary to President Ali’s warnings, the editorial was left drifting from pillar to post.