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After almost two years in office, the PPP has shown no inclination to tone down the harshness of its rulership. It has made it clear that nothing will stand it its way as it marches forward towards absolute control of State and society. There is no self-restraint—absolutely none.
Even mild criticisms from some of its friends and from the Americans have not moved them. This is astounding even for a country that is accustomed to authoritarian rule.
As I have argued in this column before, when there is no restraint on government, it goes berserk. That is just the nature of the beast. Restraint on government comes from five main sources–checks and balances within the system, the opposition, Civil Society, external forces with interests in the country and moderate forces in the government. For various reasons, none of these forces has been able to contain or stop this government.
In our winner-take-all majoritarian system, there is no institutional check on the government. Even when there are mechanisms which give the opposition some leverage, these are ultimately overruled by the government. We have seen this with the parliamentary sectoral committees and the naming of heads of government agencies. When the PPP went as afar as denying the opposition the Deputy Speaker’s position, the writing was on the wall.
The less said about the formal opposition, the better. There is either no clear strategy about how to confront the out-of-control government or an unwillingness to fight or both. Many opposition supporters hoped that Aubrey Norton’s election would have brought some degree of change in this regard—after all he was elected based on the perception that he would me more confrontational than his predecessor. Alas, he has spent his time fending off internal resistance to his leadership or responding to warnings from the PPP’s Civil Society’s friends that the Opposition’s role is to be a loyal puppy.
Civil Society is worse than the Opposition. The Trade Unions are rendered powerless by a combination of government bullying and alienated memberships. The churches are disinterested. The single-issue advocacy groups slap the government on the wrist on selective issues, but they stay far from confronting the government’s authoritarianism—they do not challenge the government’s overriding abuse of power. Others, for ethnic reasons either cheer the government on or are silent.
Of the external forces, only the Americans have muttered any criticisms. But these have been mild rebukes in their Human Rights reports. Like Civil Society they have been unwilling to get in the face of the government. I suppose, having been instrumental in the government’s installation they are constrained by the logic of that intervention. CARICOM is openly cohabiting with the government. The other ABCE countries are following the Americans lead.
Where are the moderate forces in the PPP and the government? There is absolutely none. They have closed ranks around power. Even those who have been punished by the party leader are towing the line. Hatred of the PNC, ethnic considerations and personal privilege have combined to muzzle them.
So, the government has no inventive to slow down. The primary victims of the onslaught are the supporters of the Opposition. From the distribution of economic resources to extrajudicial killings to open racial abuse, African Guyanese have been the target of the government’s barrage. Just this past week, the sight of houses at Linden being bulldozed brought tears to the eyes. The question on the lips of many is when will people say enough is enough.
Many of us have urged restraint, much to the frustration of the people. My own calls for restraint is premised on my study of ethnic conflict—it brings to the fore the worst forms of violence. In Guyana, we have walked that road before. But how much longer will these cries of restraint overpower the hollering of frustration? The ball is in the PPP’s court. It can choose to stop the stampede or continue to court disaster. There is so much the human spirit can take. The PPP cannot continue to light fires and expect us to be the firefighters. And those who continue to ignore the underlying danger of a government without any restraint in an ethnically divided society cannot escape responsibility.