Once again the issue of an apology from the PNCR has become topical. First raised with Opposition Leader David Granger while he was on a visit to the United States, it emerged again at a press conference in Guyana. Mr. Granger repeated a long established PNCR policy, designed to deflect public pressure, that there would be no blanket apology on the basis of hearsay or conjecture as if rigged elections fall in those categories. He called for all errors of the past to be investigated and said that other political parties needed to apologise as well.
Even though the PPP has made the most of the PNCR’s history during its ’28 years’ in office, as far as I am aware it has never formally called for an apology or given support to those who have done so. The PPP’s position just before the 1992 elections was captured in the slogan, ‘no recrimination, no discrimination.’ In practical terms that policy manifested itself in no inquiries or investigations being held in election rigging, corruption, Jonestown, police killings and torture and the other well-known consequences of authoritarian rule.
In General Secretary Rohee’s response to Mr. Granger’s declared support in the US for shared governance, the conditions he set out for the PPP to give it consideration related to concessions by the Opposition in the current political impasse. He did not call for an apology. An apology also never featured in the Jagdeo/Hoyte and Jagdeo/Corbin agreements in 2001 and 2003 nor in the offer by the PPP for further inclusive governance in a speech on ‘Building Trust and Confidence’ by President Jagdeo in February, 2003.
The fact though, is that the matter of the PNCR’s past continues to lurk just below the political surface and is thrust into open debate from time to time. Its persistence is an obstacle to creative political initiatives, particularly such that can unlock the potential for national unity.
The PPP has not felt similar public pressure for an apology as the PNCR. The only calls made have been by Freddie Kissoon, joined recently by Henry Jeffrey, (‘Africans also have memories that still rankle,’ SN 18/6/14). Also, the PPP has won the majority or plurality at elections since 1992. On the other hand, the PNCR carries the pressure of having lost five consecutive elections. It is not seen as becoming as electorally competitive as the PPP unless it is able extend its political base in non-traditional areas. If it can do so without addressing its past, then good luck. But no one outside the PNCR’s leadership thinks that it can.
Discussion about the PNCR’s response to its past ought not be focused only on whether it should apologise or on the single dimension of ‘equivalence’ or ‘reciprocity’ (Henry Jeffrey, op. cit.). Its past is also about how the PNCR decides to position itself politically to take advantage of what may become a new dispensation in our electoral politics, if it is interested in a governmental future with the potential to create national unity – the holy grail of Guyana’s politics.
The PNCR knows that if it is to become more electorally competitive, pre-election alliances beyond APNU are necessary. The PNCR also knows that such alliances are dead in the water without addressing its political past. Potential allies will not risk being wiped out by an alliance that carries more baggage than benefit.
Speaking from an opposition perspective, if it believes that the last election results are likely to be repeated, the only electoral option that may offer some possibility of success is a pre-election alliance. Two conditions need to inform such an alliance, namely, the PNCR must deal with its past and the PPP must be part of a national unity government after elections. If the first does not happen, there will be no alliance. If the second is not committed to, there will be no electoral success. Such a programme will see all winners and no losers, the people of Guyana being the biggest winner. If not, in the event of a PPP victory or plurality, there will be no likelihood of a post-election alliance. Gridlock will continue to prevail.
On October 30, 1996, then President Jagan said in Canada that ‘black people are at the bottom of the social ladder.’ He had said so many times in previous decades, in more elegant language, when analyzing the role that colonialism had reserved for Africans in Guyana after slavery. This was what he was referring to in a speech designed to show that race was not a factor in the removal of the PPP twice from government. No explanation prevented Desmond Hoyte and the PNCR from demanding an apology on the basis that Jagan had demeaned Africans. The executive of the PPP decided, with Dr. Jagan’s support, that he should apologise which he did fulsomely.
Would this not also have been seen as one race apologizing to another? Did it hurt the PPP? No! Did it hurt Cheddi Jagan? No! Instead, he retained his stature at his death, less than six months later, as Guyana’s most dedicated, selfless and lifelong champion. This was acknowledged overwhelmingly by all, including Africans and Indians alike, in the largest lines and crowds, multi-ethnic in composition, that ever gathered in the history of Guyana, to pay tribute to him.