The headline statement of President Barack Obama was of general application. It assumed more resonance when the Democrats lost the majority in Congress. The PPP learned the lesson that politics is the art of compromise before President Obama was born. Compromise was the basis of its early leadership. It was attempted during the crisis years of the early 1960s, then during authoritarian rule. Compromise allowed it to negotiate around oppression and build alliances for survival.
Yet, ignoring this history, pro-PPP/Government criticisms greeted my article last week (“The chickens have come home to roast”) in which I suggested compromises to get agreement on the AML/CFT bill. One critic accused me of adopting ‘false equivalencies’ between Government and Opposition, forgetting that the legislature, in the expression of its majority will, is of equal status with the executive. The other suggested that I should stop recommending compromises and get ‘backbone.’ Both ignored the fact that the Government holds a minority position in the National Assembly, cannot get its legislation passed without Opposition support, and itself offered compromise solutions to Opposition demands.
At the other end of the spectrum, the letter written by Professor Clive Thomas of the WPA, and reported in Stabroek News of March 4, castigated APNU for what Professor Thomas believes to be its intention to support the AML/CFT bill. Professor Thomas urges that the Opposition should demand even more concessions from the Government on an wider range of issues.
Both extremes, if allowed to prevail, will get Guyana nowhere and will earn goodwill for neither Government nor Opposition. For my critics, if there is a better plan than my own to keep the PPP in office, to restore the confidence of its supporters and to recover its majority at the next elections, they should outline it. Their suggestion that the PPP should huff and puff at the Opposition and blow them away is nothing but puerility.
Compromise was sought by the PPP throughout its history. Those periods during which it did not keep the doors open, such as between 1955 and 1961, efforts made to form a coalition government with the PNC and stop the violence in the early 1960s were not achieved, although there were other considerations such as the Opposition’s expectation that the PPP Government would be engineered out of office, as indeed occurred.
The policy of compromise led Cheddi Jagan to sign the Sandys Letter in 1963 conceding to the British the right to mediate the differences between the Government and Opposition. In the early 1970s the PPP supported the nationalization process and openings to Cuba and China. In 1975 the PPP offered the PNC ‘critical support.’ In 1977 the PPP offered the National Patriotic Front, the effect of which was to concede the presidency to the PNC. The creation of citizens’ unity and political unity in the struggle against the referendum in 1978/1979 could not have been achieved without compromises. Unlike the 1955–1962 period, a creative mix of support for progressive policies, efforts to compromise and struggle against oppression after 1964, preserved the existence and integrity of the PPP.
After the gross rigging of the 1973, elections the PPP made compromises to its political positions and programmes to establish unity with various opposition groups, the last one being the Patriotic Coalition for Democracy (PCD) in 1985, once again after the massive rigging of the 1985 elections. Only months before the PPP was in negotiation with the PNC for a political solution, which were discontinued by Hoyte after Burnham died.
After compromise talks within the PCD in 1991/2 failed, the PPP sought an arrangement with the GUARD movement and accepted Sam Hinds as Prime Ministerial candidate and a number of non-PPP members on its electoral list. Recently the General Secretary of the PPP called for the establishment of national democracy and a broad left front which are old PPP policies that can only be achieved by unifying disparate groups and organizations by compromise.
A major compromise to save its Government by giving up two years of its term was made by the PPP under the Herdmanston Accord in 1998. Apart from that instance, with PPP majorities at every election since 1992, except the last, majoritarianism prevailed and compromise receded. Agreements with Desmond Hoyte and later with Robert Corbin were not implemented. The creative application of compromise, now needed more than ever before, has been jettisoned.
It is hoped that at Babu John during the course of today, in celebrating the life of Cheddi Jagan, there will be reflection on the flexible political strategies he bequeathed, which included negotiation and compromise, while adhering to political principles. In present conditions the Government needs the support of the Opposition. In the absence of serious or creative compromise for two years, surprise, surprise, its strategy based on the flawed principle of executive entitlement, has not worked. My critics suggest more of the same. I suggest that something else be tried.
Otto Von Bismarck said: ‘Politics is the art of the possible, the attainable – the art of the next best.’ The Government may not get all it wants. But it may get some, enough to make its tenure modestly successful.