The meeting between President Granger and Opposition Leader Jagdeo yielded only a minor concession from the latter. He agreed that the PPP would only serve on a committee on the Guyana-Venezuela Border Controversy and not on the other proposed committees that would address national issues of importance. The reason, Mr. Jagdeo complained, is that the Government cannot expect PPP’s cooperation when it was victimizing public servants because of perceived political support for the PPP. President Granger has denied this allegation but at the same time expressed hope that the Opposition would eventually decide in favour of a higher level of co-operation. He described the meeting with Mr. Jagdeo as ‘friendly’ and said that the latter had proffered useful ideas relating to financial matters.
President Granger’s overtures to the opposition and what appears to be a genuine effort to create a regime of constructive collaboration, are not going to succeed. Until there are structural reforms in our political system which institutionalize negotiation and compromise between political parties, as well as a stake in governance or at least in the success of the government, invitations to collaborate and appeals to cooperate, are not going to have any effect.
Opposition politics in Guyana have been characterized by open hostility. This is not unusual as a general proposition. Adversarial politics in countries far different to Guyana are no less intense. However, Guyana’s toxic mix of race and politics encourages a struggle for ethnic dominance as part of the struggle for political office. The result has been the stultification of our development. In 2011 the electorate dictated the mandate to the PPP for a coalition of parties in government in order to end the ethnic struggle, but the PPP lacked the vision and the will. Not surprisingly, the electorate rejected the PPP in 2015.
The PPP had come out of a suspension of the Constitution in 1953, imprisonment and restriction of its leaders, a split in 1955 openly encouraged by the British, opposition and foreign orchestrated violence in the early 1960s and then the imposition of proportional representation with the specific purpose of removing the PPP from office. In the course of PNC rule between 1964 and 1992 and it encountered harassment, oppression, victimization, and political discrimination. Therefore, the PPP’s posture in opposition at that time in relation to the PNC government, and indeed that of all other opposition parties including the WPA, could not be faulted.
The period of implacable opposition hostility while Desmond Hoyte was Opposition Leader was a surprise to many at that time. It was Hoyte who had been responsible for the opening of the economy, of the press and free and fair elections. But his and the PNC’s hostility reflected the deep-rooted ethnic fears in our society which was being expressed by a political party on which Guyana’s African-Guyanese population relied to represent its interests and security.
When the 2001 post-election unrest subsided, there was clear evidence that the PNCR was ready for engagement. There was growing public dismay at confrontational street politics and these appeared to have run their course. Sometime in 2002 the Public Service Union held a public meeting at 4.30 pm in the compound of the St. Andrews School in Avenue of the Republic, a hundred yards away from my office. Hoyte was the keynote speaker. Hundreds of people were about but only about 25 were listening to a man who a few months earlier had been drawing crowds of thousands. The era of street politics was over.
Hoyte had sensed this and had an agreement and a series of engagements with President Jagdeo after 2001. Committees, much like those suggested by President Granger, were established. I was joint chair with then Brigadier David Granger (ret’d) of the Border and National Security Committee. We presented a comprehensive report, just like all the other committees. Nothing happened. Consequently, Desmond Hoyte discarded the engagement with President Jagdeo after it became obvious to him that the Government had no intention of fulfilling its obligations.
After Desmond Hoyte died in 2002 the discourse was renewed with newly elected PNC Leader, Robert Corbin. Two agreements were signed. The result was the same. The PPP/C Government did not implement them and Robert Corbin, sensing no further traction with the PPP, proceeded to intensify his efforts to reform and transform the leadership of the PNCR and build alliances, much as the PPP had done while in opposition. And just as the PPP succeeded at elections in 1992, with a coalition, the PNC succeeded at elections in 2015, with a coalition.
The PPP is in the mode of the PNC after 1992 – angry and bitter. But it does not have the capacity to bring out thousands of people on the streets in Georgetown. If it could have, it would have done so. The best it can do is to display its anger and hostility wherever it can, such as in the budget debate and in small picketing exercises in the country areas. But the intensity of its anger, reflective of the traumatic loss of both ethnic and political power, ought not to be underestimated. Its negative attitude towards the Government’s efforts at consultation and co-operation will reflect this reality.