There has been much discussion about the number of small parties which have announced their intention to contest the elections due on March 2, 2020. The formation of small parties at election time is not unusual in Guyana. Prior to 2001, before the amendment of the laws to provide for constituencies, many small parties contested elections. The requirement at that time was merely to provide a list of 65 nominees for the National Assembly, supported by 300 registered voters.
The Guyana Constitution provides that if the National Assembly decides, half of its seats can be contested by the first past the post system, providing that the other half of the seats is distributed to the parties that have contested the elections in such a way as to ensure that the seats that they receive are in direct proportion to the votes obtained. The Constitution Reform Commission of 1999-2001, having this constitutional provision in mind, recommended that the electoral system be reformed to provide for an element of first past the post.
The terms of the coalition between the APNU and AFC appear to have been agreed. The core elements are that Minister Khemraj Ramjattan will be the Prime Ministerial candidate and the split will be 60:40 instead of 70:30. AFC will obtain 10 seats in Parliament instead of 12 and 5 Cabinet positions, down from 6. President Granger will likely be head of the list, or otherwise choose the MPs and if he chooses to retire before the end of the term, Minister Ramjattan, as Prime Minister, will not succeed him. If this happens the Government will be forced to engage in the same constitutional dance that the PPP/C was forced into in 1999 when President Janet Jagan resigned, and which was extensively criticized by the then PNC/R. Mr. Sam Hinds had to resign as Prime Minister so that Mr. Bharrat Jagdeo could be appointed to that post to be in a position to succeed Mrs. Jagan when she resigned. Mrs. Jagan then resigned as President and Mr. Bharrat Jagdeo succeeded her. He then re-appointed Mr. Sam Hinds as Prime Minister. There is no other constitutional means by which this could have been accomplished.
Despite the apparent disagreements and extensive discussions to resolve them, observers were never in doubt that the coalition would survive, even if the AFC had to make concessions. The APNU in all its past manifestations has never legitimately won more 42 percent of the vote. With the AFC as a coalition partner, it won 50+ percent, the first time in its history. The AFC’s concessions were very modest, having regard to the party’s poor showing at the local government elections, managing to acquire only 4 percent of the vote. A drop from 10 percent of the vote in 2011, and thereabouts in 2015, to 4 percent in 2018, would have suggested that APNU was in a good position to demand more. But the need to have the AFC on board and the AFC’s aggressive posturing during negotiations obviously carried the day by forcing APNU to accept only nominal concessions in percentages and, more significantly, Khemraj Ramjattan as Prime Minister candidate. APNU was forced to drop its favoured friend Moses Nagamootoo.
As Guyana’s political season enters its beginning stages, a plethora of new political parties are coming forward to present their programmes to the electorate, seeking its support. While new parties emerging near to election time is not a new phenomenon, the numbers of new entrants to the political scene so far are unprecedented. Yesterday’s news suggest that another party, in addition to the Liberty and Justice Party (LJP), A New and United Guyana (ANUG) and The Citizens Initiative (TCI), and led by two prominent personalities, Messrs. Robert Badall and Nigel Hinds, is likely to be announced later this week. There is at least one other group organizing and preparing to launch a political party.
The immediate factor which may be responsible for the number of new political parties coming on stream at this time is probably the collapse of the Alliance For Change (AFC) which declined from 10 percent support in the 2011 general elections to 4 percent in the local government elections in 2018, and may have lost some more support since then. These new political parties could not have failed to observe that there is a pool of at least 6 percent of the electorate who may be looking for a political home. It is possible that the potential of attracting this support has been partially responsible for the number of new political parties being introduced to the electorate. It would not have been lost on these new parties that political support of the core Guyanese electorate has long been concretized by ethnic cleavages. Some are relying on the substantial youth vote on the basis that the youth are less motivated by ethnic considerations and more by matters of principle and policy.
October 5, 1992, the date of the return to democracy after a quarter of a century, promised not only a new era of democracy, but of winner-does-not-take-all politics. The first half of the equation has been largely achieved, though still on shaky ground. The second half, recognized as essential for political stability and economic and social progress, has been all but been abandoned. And it has spawned the political instability that now prevails.
Without an overarching and inspiring political direction, for most Guyanese, the choice for March 2 is already made. In accordance with long standing tradition, rooted in the ethno-political dimensions of our politics, most Guyanese will vote for either the PPP/C or the APNU+AFC. While Guyana has special historical circumstances which determine the bases of the political choices made by the vast majority of voters, in most democratic countries, in and out of the Caribbean, the choices are also between two main political parties, but ideologically, between social democratic/liberal and conservative. Similar circumstances exist in most of the Caribbean although distinguishing their ideological orientation is sometimes difficult.
The Guyana Government’s lawful tenure in office came to an end on September 18. The no confidence motion was passed pursuant to article 106 of the Constitution on December 21 and should have resulted in elections by March 21. However, court proceedings placed a ‘pause’ on events and time began to run again on June 18 when the CCJ ruled against the Government. The CCJ gave the clear indication, but did not rule, that elections are due by September 18. Nothing prevented the CCJ from formally ruling, which the lawyers representing the appellants, who had brought the case against the Government, had sought. The result is that the Government has quite duplicitously argued that the CCJ did not rule, the Constitution has not been violated and the Government has de jure and de facto power. From whence this lawful power has been derived has not been explained in any sensible or rational way.
I am deeply conscious of, and have written extensively on, the ethno-political fears that influence Guyana’s politics. I have, and so have many others, repeatedly urged our main political parties to discuss the proposals which they themselves have placed on the political agenda and come to an agreement on how political responsibility can be shared between them equally so that neither can feel at risk of being dominated by the other. The reason the APNU+AFC’s promises of constitutional reform failed to materialize is that it realized that its own proposals would put it in an inferior power position to the PPP. In order to arrive at a political solution, the parties have to accept equality of representation. And it is the PPP that would have to make that concession or sacrifice because of its superior numbers. APNU+AFC has the historical injustice of slavery as an argument to counter that of superior numbers.