Jaded by the PPP/C’s 23 years in office, many were elated at the coalition between the APNU and AFC because it offered the real possibility of ending the PPP/C’s long incumbency. APNU/PNCR had traditionally polled 40 to 42 percent of the vote and the AFC had obtained the support of 10 percent of the electorate in 2011. The Cummingsburg Accord, signed on February 14, 2018, and expiring on February 14, 2020, gave the AFC the Prime Ministership, 40 percent of the ministries and 12 seats, about 40 percent as it turned out, in the National Assembly. Discussions for a renewal of the Cummingsburg Accord prior to the March 2, 2020, general elections are not going well. Between the beginning stages, of the failure to find a creative interpretation of the Constitution to enable the Prime Minister to chair the Cabinet and, at the ending stages, the inability of the parties to agree on a formula for the division of spoils at the 2018 local government elections, and everything in between, it was anticipated that the coalition had challenges.
Soon after the formation of the Government in May 2015, dissatisfaction began to be expressed from within APNU that the AFC had been given an overgenerous portion of the coalition, about 40 percent, in National Assembly seats and in the Cabinet. Triumphalism and an unnatural confidence, born of an unnatural electoral history, that APNU can retain political power indefinitely without the AFC, led to the grumbling within APNU that the AFC had ‘got too much,’ that the Cummingsburg Accord was skewed in its favour. APNU failed to understand that it had to pay not merely for the coalition but also for the victory that the coalition would bring. Therefore, the 10 percent that the AFC was expected to bring to the coalition was worth the 40 percent price that APNU had to pay in order to dislodge the PPP/C and attain victory at the elections after 23 years of PPP/C rule.
The diminishing of the AFC as a coalition partner and as a political force in the country commenced from the opening days of the life of the Government when APNU refused to allow the Prime Minister, Moses Nagamootoo from chairing that Cabinet and it joined APNU in increasing ministerial salaries by 100 percent. The AFC was contemptuously and embarrassingly rebuffed in 2016 when APNU ignored its demand that the responsibilities of the Mr. Joe Harmon, the Minister of the Presidency, be reduced. Everything went downhill after that as the AFC completely relinquished its independence and went overboard in its craven support for every statement, every decision and every policy that APNU propounded.
Internal dissention within the AFC did nothing to improve its brand. The dispute over who would be recommended as the Prime Ministerial candidate simmered, then erupted, at a conference earlier this year when Minister Khemraj Ramjattan won hands down over Moses Nagamootoo as the person who would be recommended to APNU as the Prime Ministerial candidate. Mr. Harmon’s subsequent description of Prime Minister Nagamootoo as ‘royalty’ signaled the dispute which has now engulfed the relationship. APNU would not agree to Khemraj Ramjattan but papered over the dispute by suggesting that discussions have not broken down but will continue at a higher level. AFC, on the other hand, suggested that talks have reached a deadlock and hinted that the coalition is not likely to go forward to the next elections.
The writing is on the wall for the AFC as an independent political force. Its 4 percent performance at the local government elections last year suggests that it now holds a rump status in Guyana’s politics. What is worse is that it has given a bad name to new political parties which have a monumental task to convince skeptical voters that they will not join either of the two large parties. The promises of the AFC to hold APNU to high political and ethical standards, to implement certain defined policies such as constitutional reform, to demonstrably maintain its independence, have dissipated in the clear demonstration by APNU that anything the AFC says will be ignored.
The choice by the AFC would now be to either accept a diminished role in the coalition – mainly not being able to name the Prime Ministerial candidate, a reduced number of ministers and a similarly reduced number of members of the National Assembly – or contest the elections as an independent party as it did in 2006 and 2011. The abandonment of all of its principles and the obvious joy that it obtains in exercising political authority, not to mention all the goodies, indicate that it is well and truly entrapped and will eventually accept all that is thrown to it by APNU. In the meantime, speculation suggests that APNU hopes to make up the loss of AFC’s support by seeking a larger share of Amerindian votes. Unless the elections are manipulated, APNU will be making the same error as the PPP/C while in government of over estimating its popularity and under estimating the enduring power of the ethno-political nature of Guyana’s politics.