For some who oppose the PPP, an alliance of opposition political parties to contest elections has always been a prime objective. The AFC brought that reality closer at its conference last weekend when Party Leader, Khemraj Ramjattan, in a departure from previous policy, offered the AFC as the leader of a pro-democracy opposition alliance of trade unions, civil society, disaffected PPP members and APNU to contest the upcoming general elections. APNU’s leaders welcomed the initiative but appeared to be less than enthusiastic.
History and political realities suggest that opposition unity would be difficult to achieve. The pre-1992 efforts between the constituent parties of the PCD (Patriotic Coalition for Democracy), the WPA being one, did not succeed. There have never been any substantial alliances that have made a political difference and have endured. The first major, informal alliance between classes and individuals in Guyana’s politics was in 1950 under the banner of the PPP. But this was not a structural alliance between different, organized, groups. It failed anyway.
The next was the gobbling up of the UDP (United Democratic Party) by the PNC sometime around 1956. The UDP, led by John Carter, had little support but represented the interests of the African professional and middle class and was considered to be the political arm of the League of Coloured People (LCP) which was a social group representing the same interests. Burnham was a member before being sought out by Cheddi Jagan for a leadership role in the 1950 PPP.
The difficulties of alliance politics in Guyana were experienced in 1964 when PNC Leader Forbes Burnham promised the electorate that there would be no post-election coalition with Peter D’Aguiar’s United Force (UF). As soon as the elections were over, a coalition government was formed between the PNC and the UF, which lasted only until 1968 when the first elections were rigged to give the PNC an overall majority.
Burnham had been fearful that if he had announced the possibility of a coalition prior to the elections of that year, the PNC would have suffered negative consequences from the anger of its supporters. Proposed association in a post-election alliance with a right wing political party whose political base was in the Portuguese and Indian business communities would not have been seen as empathetic with the aspirations of the PNC’s African working class base.
The next phase of alliance politics was practiced by the PPP during the years of 1964 to 1992. The PPP worked with several political and civil society groups. It joined in the formation of the VLD (Vanguard for Liberation and Democracy) in the 1970s. This eventually gave way to the PCD (Patriotic Coalition for Democracy) in the 1980s. In between it worked with several civil society groups, some pro-PPP, some independent.
But 1992 offered the greatest opportunity from the already established PCD. But no pre or post-election coalition emerged. The details of the negotiations, which are already publicly known, some of it repeated in a letter by Clement Rohee in SN yesterday, exposed the notorious difficulties that attend such an effort. The appointment of non-PPP members, termed the Civic, into the 1992 government, characterized as a ‘coalition’ by the PPP, is not and never was a coalition.
The last experience has been the creation of APNU. But this is more of an absorption rather than a coalition. Apart from the WPA, which is no longer an electoral force, the other parties comprising APNU are one-person parties.
The AFC’s political strategy is a high risk one for several reasons. Joining APNU in loud threats to the PPP’s leadership will certainly not attract the PPP’s disaffected. They might be disappointed in the PPP but certainly do not want to see a substantial diminishing of its capacity for political protection, even if they embrace the wave of apathy that currently exists. The PNCR’s adamant refusal to merely address the fears of the historical anti-PNCR forces, which dread a return to the banning of foodstuffs and rigged elections, would adversely affect its appeal to PPP supporters. The difficult issues of leadership, composition of the list of candidates, distribution of seats after elections and agreements on policy cannot be underestimated. If there is failure, the risks of recrimination and despondency in opposition ranks could potentially affect the AFC’s performance.
All of the above having been said, Cheddi Jagan was a fervent believer in and practitioner of alliance politics. It formed a major pillar of the PPP’s political strategy since 1950 but was most productive during the years of opposition, including the anti referendum campaign in the second half of the 1970s when civil forces played a major role. Therefore, notwithstanding the PPP’s bravado and the scorn it pours on the opposition’s effort, it is aware of the potential effectiveness of an opposition alliance.
One would have thought that the political strategy of the opposition would dictate that the PPP ought to publicly make its own overtures to the opposition parties, offering a coalition government whatever the results, in order to counter the opposition’s efforts. But no kind of positive, creative strategy appears to be of interest to the PPP.