The announcement of support for a Nagamootoo/Hughes elections ticket for the AFC by its Leader, Khemraj Ramjattan, has attracted much comment. It was known for some time that the AFC had been contemplating such a combination. Mr. Hughes has already indicated his own willingness as well as his support for Mr. Nagamootoo, who said that he was humbled. This AFC team comprises two well-known Guyanese. The AFC believes that they have substantial appeal.
The AFCs had little choice in deploying what it would consider to be its best team in these specific political conditions. It will want to retain the support it took from the PPP in 2011 and recover from the PNCR that which it lost. Nagamootoo was seen as the AFC leader who attracted that PPP support. Hughes has been active in the African Guyanese community while sustaining political activity across the ethnic and geographic spectrum. He is seen within the AFC as having the potential of attracting much youth support. Both candidates are well known and have been active politically, Nagamootoo for much longer. Nagamootoo was up to 1992 one of Guyana’s leading journalists and one of Guyana’s best known politicians up to the present time. He has long been an outstanding political platform orators. Hughes has been active for many years as a public advocate for persons allegedly victimized by police violence.
The Party was established just at the time when dissatisfaction with the PNCR was mounting, temporarily as it turned out, and the goodwill for the PPP at the fringes of its support base was becoming frayed. It has been able to get the benefit from such dissatisfaction with both parties, which has not subsided. However, this by itself does not guarantee a repeat of 2006 or 2011 or a combination of both.
Young voters, who are the single largest bloc, are not as affected as the older generation by the narratives of the past, and appear to be more amenable to the influence of the AFC. But it is difficult to tell whether the AFC support among youth is confined only to the educated and/or middle class only and whether the much larger portion of working and unemployed youth remain influenced by the traditional messages of the older parties. The AFC would know that to make a significant impact it must influence this latter section of the youth.
While the AFC, the youngest of the three parties, has now demonstrated the capacity to embrace fresh thinking in choosing candidates, the two older parties will be fielding those who have already registered loses for their parties. Their Parties’ agendas will contain nothing about breaking the deadlock even if one Party wins a majority. Condemning the Guyanese people to more of the same – one political party lording it over a ‘bi-communal’ society with a broken political system would be a great disservice to the Guyanese people.
Speculation suggests that the PPP will go to the polls with an ‘A’ team as in 1997. If I were Donald Ramotar I would feel insulted by any suggestion that my candidacy needs the addition of a third, younger, person to give it any help. Also, the removal of Sam Hinds, as has been rumoured, even his ‘voluntary’ resignation after such distinguished service to the PPP, will expose the absence of an African Guyanese from among the top leadership of the PPP who can command a second or even third place on his/her own merits.
The PNCR has its own challenges. It has suffered serious divisions within recent times. These were searingly exposed at its recent Congress when a large number of Linden delegates complained about being disenfranchised and there were ‘scuffles’ resulting in a gunshot being fired. It is clear that Mr. Granger is having difficulty in reconciling important elements in the PNCR with his leadership.
The AFC can no longer rely on dissatisfaction with the two main political parties or innovative leadership decisions in order to attract support. Its support from the PNC in 2006 disappeared in 2011. Its support from the PPP’s disgruntled supporters in 2011 can equally disappear in 2016.
Guyana has not been kind to third parties. It will be equally unkind to the AFC unless it articulates a full gamut of policy choices based on elements of a core philosophy that distinguishes it from the main political parties but which emphasizes constitutional reform to end gridlock, job creation, poverty alleviation, anti-corruption, and economic growth other than from the ‘magic’ of private enterprise.
A most important aspect of these is the major projects that it has declined to support. Guyana cannot move forward without hydro electricity or a modern airport. And aid donors or investors are not lining up to hand over to or invest resources in Guyana, which does not have the capacity to attract or the clout to make demands. A lot has been heard recently about tough bargaining. This only takes place among equals.
It could well be that after two plus decades each of the PNC and the PPP in office, Guyanese are ready to break the deadlock and to give the AFC the benefit of the doubt. But the AFC will have to earn it against formidable opponents with entrenched and historic claims to loyalty.