Frustration at the political gridlock which obstructs all progress now pervades our politics. It has resulted in well meaning persons raising the issue once again of a consensus presidential candidate for the Opposition. This proposal, always just below the political surface, has more resonance at this time than any other in view of the 2011 election results. In earlier times political supporters of the Opposition often raised the idea in the hope that if accepted, it may attract enough supporters from the PPP to give the Opposition an absolute majority. Now that the Opposition together have a majority, many feel that a consensus presidential candidate can now bring victory to the Opposition.
As is well known the Guyana Constitution does not permit two or more Parties which together obtain a majority of the votes at elections to select the head of government or form the government. The Party which obtains the plurality wins the Presidency and can form a minority government as is the case now.
The simple solution, of course, is for one of the Opposition leaders, most likely David Granger of the larger APNU bloc, to be the consensus presidential candidate of both Opposition parties. For a reason that is well known but need not detain us, the proponents of the consensus presidential candidate idea do not see Mr. Granger as attracting enough PPP supporters to lead to an Opposition majority. They also argue that the AFC will be crushed if it aligns with the APNU. Hence the search for a suitable candidate from outside the ranks of the Opposition who has broad, across the board appeal.
It is probably unlikely that both Opposition parties can find a suitable consensus presidential candidate upon whom they can both agree. It has to be remembered that both leaders will have to relinquish their own positions and convince their supporters to support someone who most likely has not been an open supporter of either Party or may not even have been a politician and therefore did not pay any dues. Agreeing to a consensus presidential candidate is possible but not easy to accomplish. The idea is probably based on the frustratingly stubborn domination of the two major parties with entrenched ethnic support. For it to materialize the Opposition parties would have to have a high degree of certainty that it will bring victory. There is no poll or study to suggest this.
Much more than a consensus presidential candidate, it is believed that the electorate would welcome the historical promise of national unity made by the founders of our nation, the General Council of the original PPP. The PNC, being an offshoot of the PPP, means that the PPP today exists in two parts, the PPP and the PNC. It is no longer feasible for these two parts returning to the days of 1950, but it is possible under existing conditions for a coalition Government to be agreed upon to move the country forward. The basis has already been laid and this column has pointed it out on many occasions. The PPP has supported shared governance in the past and ‘winner does not take all’ and Desmond Hoyte announced support for such a position in 2002.
The persons who advocate the consensus presidential candidate strategy, while they may continue to pursue that option as one strategy, ought not to succumb to the frustrations of gridlock in our political system. Countries like Guyana with a society divided in two major ethnic groups which generally rely on the two major political parties to represent their interests and who have had a history of inter ethnic violence and upheavals will never find it easy to arrive at a political accommodation. All must therefore continue to patiently advocate the only rational way forward for Guyana. That is a system of governance which involves both major political parties exercising executive authority in one form or another. There are or can be many different equations.
Guyana should never forget what Cheddi Jagan was prepared to do and how far he was prepared to go to end the political deadlock in the 1970s, to head off potential violence and to create a stable political system. While this is not being suggested now, the example is worth recalling.
In the PPP’s National Patriotic Front proposals of 1977 it was agreed by the PPP, and formally proposed, that the political party which won the largest number of votes would hold the post of prime minister and would decline to contest the post of executive president under new constitutional arrangements. In the situation that was anticipated to emerge, and did emerge in 1992 in free and fair elections, the PPP would have won the largest amount of votes and Cheddi Jagan would have served as prime minister under executive president Forbes Burnham whose party would have won fewer votes than the PPP. In other words Cheddi Jagan was prepared to concede to Forbes Burnham the post of head of government to which he would have been entitled and to serve under Burnham in the interests peace, harmony and development.
We need to continue the effort to return our country to statesmanship of that quality.