The crisis facing Guyana, due to get worse on March 22, when the Government loses its legal authority, was not the result of the actions of evil people. Not Charrandass Persaud for voting for the no confidence motion, not the PPP for encouraging him to do so, not APNU+AFC for seeking to stay in office for as long as possible in defiance of the Constitution. The crisis has emerged from the same culture that caused the PNC to rig elections, the PPP to abandon its pledge in 1992 to implement shared governance and in 2011 to fail to seek a coalition with the Opposition. The main political parties reflect the fears, anxieties and insecurities of the two major ethnic groups, each of which feels that unless it holds political office to the exclusion of the other, the economic and physical security of its supporters will be jeopardised. Each has its own narrative of grievances against the other, recent and historic, and each is as compelling to its owner as the other.
This systemic weakness has bedeviled our political culture since 1955 when the PPP split into two parties and became in 1957 the PPP and the PNC. Ethno-political fears have since remained the most dominant feature of our political system and which undergirds all political developments. If it continues, the major ills of our society such as underdevelopment and continuing poverty, political instability, periodic crises, corruption, emigration of skilled Guyanese, and many others can never be resolved.
The PNC, now APNU, has remained stubbornly wedded to electoral manipulation to stay in office because it cannot command majority support. And the PPP cannot bring itself to concede that the PNC/APNU needs to feed in equality at the same table. There have been widespread fears that APNU will once again resort to rigging elections to remain in office. These fears have now been exacerbated by its current refusal to call elections.
The PPP, while in opposition, has never had the capacity to mount effective confrontations against the PNC. It has always had to rely on the international community. It did so unsuccessfully during its long years in opposition from 1964. It is only the end of the Cold War, when it was no longer seen as a security threat to the US, that the latter allowed free and fair elections.
Today a similar dilemma faces the PPP. It does not have the street muscle or the industrial strength to challenge the APNU+AFC coalition. And APNU+AFC will not budge from its determination to remain in power for as long as possible, regardless of what the Constitution says. The PPP’s resort is once again to the international community, some of whose members it has aggressively attacked in the past, and who are believed to be generally sympathetic to the APNU+AFC Government.
In the midst of its increasingly plaintive call for the international community to pressure the Government, President Trump’s failure to call on the Government to adhere to the Constitution, or at least to express his hope that it will do so, or even to hint that the US has expectations as to how the Government will act at this time, in his Republic Day message to President Granger, is significant. It indicates a potentially soft response by the US if the Government remains in office beyond March 21.
Faced with the potential dilemma of inaction by the international community, with the decline of the Indian population creating the uncertainty of obtaining an absolute majority at the elections, whenever held, and the PPP’s predilection for choosing its least optimal presidential candidates, it needs to define a new strategy. And the international community needs to seize the opportunity.
Now is the time for the international community to make a final push to engineer a permanent solution to Guyana’s governance problem which, unless the opportunity is seized, will continue for decades into the future. No matter how much we hope and plead for Guyana’s leaders to resolve our problems themselves, that will not happen. The ethno-political fears are too deeply embedded in our society to permit a resolution by discourse. It’s not that they are bad people. It’s that they are driven by forces that they cannot harness and would not acknowledge. Like all Guyana, they are in an ethno-political prison, from which they cannot escape, without help.
President Jimmy Carter and Baroness Valerie Amos are two outstanding international figures, who are held in the highest esteem across Guyana, and who are Guyana’s most revered international friends. They are also very committed to, even if perhaps exasperated by, Guyana’s politics. Baroness Amos has the advantage of being of Guyanese birth. If I had the power I would invite them to Guyana, preferably together, not merely to mediate a resolution of this current crisis, but in doing so, to transform the future of Guyana. To resolve the current crisis, to prevent future political crises and to prevent Guyana’s oil wealth form being dissipated in corruption,shared executive governance, to which both parties have already committed, needs to be a subject of the mediationprocess. In the meantime, no kind of mediation can be successful unless the international community shows no tolerance for violations of the Constitution.