A few people were amused (see last Sunday’s SN cartoon), others intrigued, by the term ‘incumbency fatigue’ which I used at a press conference to explain the reduced vote obtained by the PPP/C at the elections. I cannot recall where I discovered the term but, whether rightly or wrongly used, I meant that some of us – supporters of the PPP – may have been sufficiently tired for no reason other than being in office too long that we could not be bothered to vote.
Everyone has a different take on what was responsible for the decline in PPP support from 54 percent in 2006 to 48 percent in 2012. Many look at the superficial. The reality is that Guyana’s political landscape is changing. It must after twenty years. There are demographic, economic, social and political changes that are deep going and which will continue to affect political outcomes. The PPP must adapt to the changes.
During the fifties and sixties the PPP did not command the support of an absolute majority of the electorate when the percentage of the Indian Guyanese population was higher than it was up to the 2006 elections and that it is now. Hard and committed political struggle under authoritarian conditions during the seventies and eighties, notwithstanding a declining Indian Guyanese population, assured for the PPP an absolute majority during the nineties and the last decade. Whether the same will restore the absolute majority in the different circumstances which now, and will, prevail at the next elections are to be seen.
The elections have revealed one fact that remains at the core of all political work worldwide. There is no substitute for an efficient, committed and united party and election machinery at ground level. These must feed into a responsive leadership. For the first time in my experience no one from the PPP passed around my community to check the voters’ list. No one was about on election day checking the names of persons voting so that at 4 pm teams can go out to those who did not yet vote. This was done at every elections in the past, even in the PNC era, difficult though it was. A restoration of the PPP’s traditional strength – its outstanding organizational capacity – is a necessity if its past electoral support is to be recaptured.
Much has happened in Guyana in the twenty years that the PPP has been in office. It is normal in such changing circumstances for organizations of any kind to review their aims, objectives, systems, structures, practices, policies and rules in order to keep them up to date. The time has come for the PPP to focus more searchingly on these matters.
In 1992 the basic unit of the Party, the Party Group, had a fixed set of items on its agenda. These included membership drives, literature sales, fundraising and educationals. Members were encouraged to join parent-teachers associations, trade unions, mass organizations and even religious organizations if they were so inclined. They had to take up local causes and organize local forms of struggle such as making representations, organizing petitions or picketing demonstrations and other such activities. The groups also had flexibility to discuss any other matters of concern or interest or pursue any other activities if these could influence people to support the Party and extend its influence. The agenda of this basic Party unit informed the work of the Party at the central level, kept the Party alive in difficult times, built local leaders, and made it into the formidable force it became by 1992.
With the PPP in government since 1992, other tasks have assumed equal priority. The Party needed to add to its agenda as priorities activities geared to aid the development process by identifying community needs, transmitting those needs to the authorities, satisfying them where possible by community effort, ensuring that infrastructural and other programmes are carried out in accordance with the contracts, ensuring that schools and health centres are resourced, explaining Government policy and maintaining that vital link between the community and the NDCs/RDCs/Government. In this way the Party could continue to keep close to the people and be seen to be on their side, fighting for their interests. The omission to consistently perform these tasks distanced the Party from the people and set the stage for ‘incumbency fatigue.’
The election results will no doubt encourage in due course a thorough going review of all the factors mentioned above to retool and refurbish the Party’s objectives, systems, structures and rules and add a new and updated focus to the agenda of its Groups and Committees in order to strengthen its capacity to work for the development of the Guyanese people.