The terms of the coalition between the APNU and AFC appear to have been agreed. The core elements are that Minister Khemraj Ramjattan will be the Prime Ministerial candidate and the split will be 60:40 instead of 70:30. AFC will obtain 10 seats in Parliament instead of 12 and 5 Cabinet positions, down from 6. President Granger will likely be head of the list, or otherwise choose the MPs and if he chooses to retire before the end of the term, Minister Ramjattan, as Prime Minister, will not succeed him. If this happens the Government will be forced to engage in the same constitutional dance that the PPP/C was forced into in 1999 when President Janet Jagan resigned, and which was extensively criticized by the then PNC/R. Mr. Sam Hinds had to resign as Prime Minister so that Mr. Bharrat Jagdeo could be appointed to that post to be in a position to succeed Mrs. Jagan when she resigned. Mrs. Jagan then resigned as President and Mr. Bharrat Jagdeo succeeded her. He then re-appointed Mr. Sam Hinds as Prime Minister. There is no other constitutional means by which this could have been accomplished.
Despite the apparent disagreements and extensive discussions to resolve them, observers were never in doubt that the coalition would survive, even if the AFC had to make concessions. The APNU in all its past manifestations has never legitimately won more 42 percent of the vote. With the AFC as a coalition partner, it won 50+ percent, the first time in its history. The AFC’s concessions were very modest, having regard to the party’s poor showing at the local government elections, managing to acquire only 4 percent of the vote. A drop from 10 percent of the vote in 2011, and thereabouts in 2015, to 4 percent in 2018, would have suggested that APNU was in a good position to demand more. But the need to have the AFC on board and the AFC’s aggressive posturing during negotiations obviously carried the day by forcing APNU to accept only nominal concessions in percentages and, more significantly, Khemraj Ramjattan as Prime Minister candidate. APNU was forced to drop its favoured friend Moses Nagamootoo.
The big loser was Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo. With a limited portfolio of Head of Government Business, Information and Constitutional Reform, the former prominent journalist and decades long campaigner against the PNC for a free press, PM Nagamootoo was unsuccessful in making the State-owned press more than an abject apologist for the Government, as it was in the past. He raised no objection to the dismissal of Government sympathisers, Lincoln Lewis and David Hinds, as columnists for the Guyana Chronicle. As if there was a conspiracy against the Prime Minister, constitutional reform did not get off the ground for no obvious reason, except that it would have resulted in the APNU+AFC being potentially a junior partner in a unity government with the PPP. The PM’s answer to the failure to proceed with constitutional reform was the neglect of the Parliamentary Select Committee on Constitutional Reform to consider the Bill to establish the Constitutional Reform Commission. But the Prime Minister is Head of Government Business. This is therefore no excuse unless he was merely a figurehead. If the Parliamentary Select Committee refused or declined to perform its duties, the Prime Minister ought to have tabled the Bill in the National Assembly. He did not do so and has not explained why. If the APNU+AFC wins the elections, his “royalty,” as described by Joe Harmon, might secure him the opportunity to try once again to implement APNU+AFC”s 2015 promises for constitutional reform.
The AFC, by abandoning its pre-coalition agenda, displaying total subservience to APNU’s desires and by being indispensable to an APNU+AFC electoral victory, has won out in the end with a mere tinkering of their Cummingsburg formula. But we must all be cautious of the heightened rhetoric. Minister Cathy Hughes declared: “The Alliance of Change is a party of principle committed to the fundamental transformation of Guyanese society which included healing and reconciliation, an end to racial voting, winner takes all politics and constitutional reform which we have preached since 2006.” Yeah! ‘Preached’ indeed!
The fundamental basis of “winner does not take all politics” is a coalition between the APNU and its allies and the PPP and its allies. The end to racial voting cannot be accomplished by soothing and persuasive words to ‘racial’ voters who know of no other way to vote. It can only be accomplished by a political solution which brings together the major ethnic political forces in Guyana with the objective of eliminating ethno-political dominance. The APNU+AFC coalition is not that political solution. It is an opportunistic political convenience of one side of the ethnic political divide whose objective is to secure ethno-political dominance for one group. A PPP/C government with its own allies that excludes equal representation by APNU and its associates would be similarly described.
For the time being the AFC has won. The word on the street is that APNU+AFC will ‘win’ the elections. Our electoral arithmetic has been historically innovative. We will see on this occasion whether APNU’s 42 percent plus AFC’s 4 percent will add up to 50+ percent.