Political tensions in Guyana took a turn for the worst over the past two weeks. This has resulted from the appointment by President Granger of former Justice James Patterson as Chairman of the Elections Commission. Claiming that the third set of names contained no one who was fit and proper as required by the Constitution, the President, rejecting the names, utilized the constitutional proviso that enabled him to appoint a judge or former judge or a person qualified to be a judge.
Mr. James Patterson may not have been the President’s first choice. The appearance of Major General (ret’d) Joe Singh’s name among the final six gave some hope that the matter would be resolved without resort to the proviso. Those who know the retired Major-General suggest that he would not have allowed his name to go forward if there was any possibility that it would be rejected as not fit and proper. His sudden resignation from all government posts suggest that an undertaking, which may have been given to him, had been violated.
The drive for ethnic dominance is an unavoidable consequence of our social history. It manifests itself in numerous ways and appears in discourses relating to social and economic policy. More importantly and fundamentally, it appears in political competition. Ideas of ethnic dominance have always shaped our society, and politics could not have escaped it even if it had tried. Our main political parties understand this reality but have each constructed an historical narrative that tells an alternative story. The narratives have subsisted together with and have had a parallel trajectory with the drive for ethnic dominance.
Even the youthful leaders who formed the early political movement, the Political Affairs Committee of 1947 and the Peoples Progressive Party in 1950, did so with the understanding that ethnic unity was a vital pre-requisite. The split of the PPP in 1955, although overtly between ‘moderates’ and ‘extremists,’ were led by an African Guyanese, Burnham, the ‘moderate’ and the walkout was against the Indian Guyanese, Cheddi Jagan, the ‘extremist,’ resulting from a demand made by Burnham for ‘leader or nothing.’ But within a short time the split inevitably developed into ethnic dimensions. The ethnic violence of the 1960s and two decades of authoritarian rule have together ensured its rigidity and sharpened its significance as a factor in Guyana’s politics unlike, say, Trinidad and Tobago, and have brought home the need to create political and constitutional structures that would undermine its political potency.
Membership of our two main political parties does not necessarily imply that one is a racist or subscribes to an ethnic approach to politics. The leaderships of both parties seriously strive, largely unsuccessfully, to broaden the leadership and membership of their parties. That they have not been successful has not modified their efforts. In the past when there was a clearer ideological distinction between the parties, it was even easier to justify the assertion that motivations for political activism were not ethnic, at least overtly. But supporters are recalcitrant.
While no leader would tolerate ethnic slurs made by their supporters, they are always conscious of the fact that unacceptable language or characterizations in referring to another ethnic group is a common feature of Guyanese life and their supporters might falter. Strong measures should always be taken against such behavior. When Bill Maher, the white US TV host/comedian, liberal and strongly anti-racist, who donated US$1 million to Obama’s election campaign, recently said light-heartedly while interviewing someone that he should not be considered a ‘house n***’, there was a national outcry. He barely kept his job and had to apologise and publicly atone. One of his guests in his next show, the African American actor and rapper, Ice Cube, said that when that word is used in any context, except by African Americans who are now the owners of the word, and presumably are permitted to use it, ‘it’s like a knife.’ Words of racist abuse feel the same way to every race and they do reflect a ‘personal philosophy.’
The government is silently leaning the economy towards Burnham’s socialist control system, to cooperativism and poverty, where the sugar workers suffer and the private sector has no influence. The past government’s policies favoured drug lords, the criminally inclined and business crooks. While these two parties are in existence racism will never die in Guyana and the problems outlined above, and more, will never be resolved. Guyanese have a decision to make, or not to make and to live with the consequences. That decision is whether or not to support a political party for the next elections to be soon announced by Mr. Craig Sylvester, whose views, as set out in a letter in yesterday’s KN, are summarized above.
The dominant narratives in and about Guyana are conditioned by slavery, indentureship and their consequences. One major consequence is the existence of two ethnic blocs which have been socialized differently and separately. Guyana consists largely of two different societies, in watchful competition, but largely at peace, existing under the same national roof.
I adopt the sentiments of Lincoln Lewis, who writes frequently on constitutional matters. He said in last Sunday’s Chronicle: “We are facing a very serious situation and what I am about to say is intended to right a ship, veering wildly off course and posing dire implications for the rule of law, the legitimacy of the executive, and protecting the well-being of the society.” Mr. Lewis cited the following instances where the authority of the executive and limits of the President have been exceeded: 1. The termination of leases in the MMA; 2. (Mis)Interpretation of criteria for Gecom chair; 3. The termination of Red House lease; 4. Seeking to possess the property of Clarissa Riehl; 5. Instructions given to the Police Service Commission not to act on a list for promotions. While Mr. Lewis’s did not explicitly say so, his conclusion is that the court rulings suggest that the constitution is being violated.
A strong editorial in the Stabroek News of August 21 did not mince words. Additional violations were cited in extenso:”…the directive issued by Minister of State Joe Harmon on June 26 to the Police Service Commission (PSC) in the name of President Granger for the halting of the police promotions process must be condemned as an attack on constitutionalism….Given President Granger’s flawed reading of the constitutional provisions relating to the appointment of a Chairman of the Guyana Elections Commission, his unconscionable delay in acting upon the recommendations of the Judicial Service Commission and the May 2015 attempt by Minister Simona Broomes to issue an instruction to the Public Service Commission, which was later ruled ultra vires by the High Court, a pattern of highly worrying behavior has emerged. It is clear that when it suits the President and the government to ignore constitutional precepts – in this case the vital insulating of service commissions – it is prepared to do so. Two and a half years into its term of office, this tendency is rife with jeopardies to constitutional rule and the rule of law. It also adds to the unpleasant legend of the PNC’s undemocratic rule of the 70s and 80s, the flying of colours of the party over the Guyana Court of Appeal and the entrenching of paramountcy of the party as enshrined in the Sophia Declaration.”