The recent, ongoing debate on narratives initiated by Ravi Dev in the Kaieteur News, is a refreshing departure from the traditional accusatory posture that defines political analysis.
Narratives are stories. Some are based on history or on a person’s interpretation of history. In this context the stories might be true or false. They can become accepted and their negative connotations magnified by a large segment of the population. They then enter belief systems and are transformed into narratives which influence events. According to Dev, narratives do not only emerge from historical facts and settings but they can be deliberately created. False narratives or those of persecution that systematize their context pose great dangers for the stability of societies in which legitimacy is a challenge.
Dev argues that the narrative that is being feverishly propagated that the Government is an elected, semi-fascist dictatorship is likely to encourage the use of undemocratic means, even violence, to remove it. For this he has been accused of being pro PPP, a once fearsome charge, with lingering, hostile connotations, that drove fear into people’s minds during the era of authoritarian rule when the PPP was deemed an enemy of the State. More recently he has been dealing with the issue of the ‘guilty race’ narrative.
Colonial slavery thrived for centuries on the narrative of the inferiority of Africans. The narrative about the European Jew reached its deadly apotheosis during Nazi rule which was characterized as fascist. The consequences are known. Stalin’s brutal collectivization had its own anti-kulak narratives. The ANC was demonized in South Africa by the narrative of terrorism, applied to most national liberation organizations at that time.
The creators of false, propagandistic political narratives know what they are doing and usually plan for an eventual outcome that is destructive to the object of their calumny.
Between 1968 and 1992 in Guyana the forms and symbols of democracy remained largely intact. There were elections, a parliament, a judiciary, an executive (cabinet) which met, a police force and military, a state owned press and other manifestations of democratic rule. But the foundation of democratic rule was destroyed by eliminating the right of the electorate to vote for a party of its choice. Each of the institutions mentioned above was slowly subverted as the need arose in order to prevent it from being utilized in the struggle for democracy.
Since 1992 the government has been freely elected. The Parliament debates legislation, much of which is referred to special select committees, where amendments take place. The Judiciary consistently and fearlessly rules against the Government or the interests of the Government. The executive meets regularly and press releases and press conferences are held to report on its decisions. The Press is free. There are no political prisoners. As I have said elsewhere, there are abuses as in most societies. Many are freely exposed and the government pilloried. That happens in Guyana.
The conclusion that Guyana is an elected but semi-fascist dictatorship is subjectively based on the decision making process and the actual decisions made. How are decisions made? The Constitution of Guyana lays the basis for the definition of this process. The President is described as “the chief executive” and cabinet members are his advisors. By virtue of this framework a cabinet decision is merely advisory and not binding on the President. He can reject it. As the chief executive, the President is responsible for decisions of the executive which he alone can make. He can overrule any of the cabinet’s decisions. Under the cabinet system of government provided for by the Independence Constitution the Prime Minister was merely primus inter pares. His recommendations could have been rejected and he could have been outvoted in the Cabinet.
What is the reality of governance today? There is an anomalous situation where Cabinet decisions still hold sway despite the changes in the Constitution. Formal decisions of the cabinet are still made by the approval of Cabinet Papers. This approval is recorded in a document called a Cabinet Decision which is circulated to all relevant government departments which are expected to act on it where necessary. There is therefore in place an elaborate, extra-constitutional system of executive decision making, based on tradition, which abjures constitutional provisions and maintains the system of cabinet rule which prevailed in the past. Whether this has prevailed by practice or choice is not known. But it effectively results in a president not exercising the full powers given to him/her under the constitution as ‘chief executive.’
The functioning of institutions of governance today, and in particular the decision making process of the executive could not possibly lead to a conclusion that Guyana is either an ‘elected dictatorship’ or ‘semi-fascist.’ What then is the objective of perpetuating this narrative? It has never been a secret. The stated objective is to create a ‘velvet’ revolution which will remove the lawfully elected government. This is called sedition.
Offences of sedition and seditious libel are no longer used in developed countries where democratic practices are entrenched and where, among serious political analysts, political discussion has moved beyond the level of the coarse.
In many developing countries with fledgling democracies where institutions are still fragile, the authorities are duty bound to the nation to protect them from reckless incitement to change lawfully elected governments by unlawful means. There are many developing countries coming out of authoritarian or dictatorial rule where the danger of returning to the past is a possibility. Honduras is the latest example. The evidence is clear that in Guyana terrorists are on the move. The State has a responsibility to ensure that they are not encouraged, by accident or design.