TRANSFORMING GUYANA’S POLITICS


Political alignments all over the world evolve over time. Guyanese of my generation and the preceding one believe that the period 1947 – 1953 marked the beginning of modern politics in Guyana. That period is nostalgic for those who were interested in or influenced by political events of that time and even in the 1960s when I became an adult. 

In 1950 the Guyanese working class was united in a mighty wave by People’s Progressive Party (PPP) whose founding leaders had a vision of freedom and justice that wrested universal adult suffrage from our rulers and swept the PPP to political office in 1953. The 1950s merged into the 1960s as I came to adulthood so the euphoria of struggle and inspiration of 1950/53 were still dominant sentiments in politics.
It was a time of unity, courage, sacrifice and anticipation of the freedom to come. It was also a time of ideals, when all were ‘involved’ in the struggle for the common objective of independence, which would lead to the promised land of freedom and socialism. The rallying cry of ‘death must not find us thinking that we die,’ Martin Carter’s inspiring paean to Ivan Edwards, a live wire in the early PPP and Transport Workers Union, who died by drowning in Barbados in 1952, inspired the generation of Leslie Melville who recently called for a rekindling of ‘the spirit of 1953.’ The shattering ‘clang’ of the ‘illiterate’ prison door ended this era.
Alas, 1953 will never return but the spirit can be rekindled and Leslie Melville’s dream can come true. The movement ruptured in 1955 leading to the first divisive elections in 1957. Internecine strife in the early 1960s, foreign interference, rigged elections and authoritarian rule, the bitterness and rancour of years of political disputes in the 1970s and 1980s, the end of the cold war, the return of democracy, the changing structure of our society in and up to the 1990s have all led to the hardening of political perceptions and alignments in the 1990s and at present. But the current political climate offers possibilities. Conditions are now emerging which suggest that the development of a form of expanded political and ethnic unity than currently exists is now possible.
The People’s National Congress Reform (PNCR) is today facing daunting challenges. The accession of Opposition Leader Robert Corbin to the leadership of the PNCR five years ago has been followed by a gradual withdrawal of support by its middle class adherents. A similar disenchantment occurred from the late 1970s when Burnham overreached for power with a referendum and a new constitution in the midst of a deep economic crisis. It was eventually followed by the loss of office by the PNCR in 1992, a loss from which it has never recovered and which the PNCR has been struggling unsuccessfully to come to terms with ever since. The challenges from the Alliance For Change (AFC) has not made it easier,
The last two Congresses of the PNCR exposed, through the leadership controversies, the deep dissatisfaction of the core middle class membership with the current leadership of the PNCR. I believe that the disaffected members, together with the PNCR’s broad middle class support are waiting in the wings a leadership acceptable to them to emerge at which time they will restore their support. This has happened before. When Burnham died the middle class support that he had driven away by his excesses returned and remained with the PNCR until Hoyte passed away. This middle class is vital for the PNCR. It is its anchor, necessary in turbulent times. It is influential in the society and has provided the intellectual and academic resources for PNCR policy development and advocacy. It gives prestige to the PNCR While this middle class is in the stands, the PNCR will remain hobbled. 
Because of the challenges resulting from this loss of support, the PNCR will face an insurmountable task to maintain its already reduced level of electoral strength at the next general elections. Meanwhile the PPP, with its unified leadership and formidable Party machinery, perfected in difficult conditions and still intact, appears equipped and resourced to dominate the political landscape for years to come.  
With the expectation that succeeding leaderships of the PPP will continue the Party’s policies of inspiring the unity of the Guyanese people, promoting economic growth, advocating fairness and equality, ensuring equity in resource allocation, providing human security for all sections of the population, and if it convinces the disaffected middle class supporters of the PNCR that it will strive to deliver on these goals, then there is no reason why the PPP ought not to seek to attract, and win, the support of this large and influential section of the Guyanese population. This is a realizable goal and if this happens it can transform politics in Guyana.
The PPP’s unique creation, the CIVIC, still exists as a forum to attract the support of Guyanese who do not share the PPP’s political orientation, but who agree with enough of its policies to accept it as a credible vehicle to achieve Guyana’s important goals by working together and in consultation with opposition parties and civil society. The burdens of office have deprived the PPP of the time to focus on the structuring of the CIVIC in such a way as to increase its capacity to attract increasingly large forces in the society, such as the current PNCR’s disaffected leadership. This can be done in such a way to maintain their political independence while advancing the cause of Guyana.
I do not speak for the PPP on this matter because I have not consulted my colleagues. But subject to that, I invite the members of the PNCR who are now contemplating withdrawal from it, and those who have already done so, to consider the CIVIC, fashioned to current needs, even to their needs, as their new political home. This can be the beginning of the long journey back to 1953 in search of the future. (www.conversationtree.com)

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