The Cummingsburg Accord is only the latest in the history of alliances in Guyana’s post-war politics. The PPP emerged out of informal class and ethnic alliances in 1950. The PNC-UDP sought to merge African working and middle classes in the 1950s, with some resistance. The ‘moderate’ PNC came together with the ‘right wing’ UF in 1964. The opposition formed the little known VLD (Vanguard for Liberation and Democracy) in the late 1970s and the PCD in 1985, which comprised groups of differing ideological persuasions. The WPA emerged out of an alliance of several left/radical groups.
The PPP sought to engage the PNC by ‘critical support’ in 1976. In 1977 the PPP offered to sacrifice the presidency and take the second spot of prime minister in a new constitutional formula outlined in the National Patriotic Front in the interests of national unity. It was the epitome of political magnanimity in Guyana’s modern political history. The PPP saw working class unity and the strengthening of the left trend initiated by the PNC Government, as the outcome. It was rejected.
In 1985 the PPP was again prepared to sacrifice the presidency in talks initiated by the PNC. The economic situation had deteriorated so dramatically, and the IMF’s proposed conditionalities so draconian, that the PNC Government sought help from the socialist countries. This was only forthcoming if its issues with the PPP were resolved. The talks were terminated by Desmond Hoyte after Burnham passed.
In 1991, having failed to structure an electoral alliance with the PCD and later with the WPA, Cheddi Jagan offered to sacrifice the top spot to Roger Luncheon to satisfy demands by GUARD that he was not a suitable presidential candidate. GUARD rejected the offer. Eventually, in an alliance with GUARD, Cheddi Jagan became presidential candidate and GUARD’s leader, Sam Hinds, the prime ministerial candidate.
With the passing of Cheddi Jagan, the effort to compromise in the interests of national unity, or internally in the interests of party unity, ended. In 1997 Roger Luncheon rejected several independent private initiatives suggesting a Ramkarran-Luncheon ticket for the elections of that year. He offered to support instead a Luncheon-Ramkarran ticket. (I learnt of these initiatives after they were made and rejected).
After his response gained no traction, he became one of the most ardent and articulate spokespersons for a Janet Jagan-Sam Hinds ticket instead of the Ramkarran-Hinds ticket, proposed by Mrs. Jagan herself, who pointed out the several reasons why she disqualified herself, and why the ticket she proposed was the most suitable. However, she succumbed to disingenuous and shortsighted blandishments. (‘How can we not field a Jagan as the candidate when we have always done so and won and now have one available?’ Dr. Luncheon intoned). The rest is history.
Roger Luncheon’s progressive instincts relating to Guyana’s ethnic and political dilemmas, unknown because he had to suppress them after 1997 in the new dispensations, would have flourished as prime minister and later as president. He would have encouraged the PPP towards significant measures enhancing national unity. But after 1997 he was entrapped in a party, rocked by public unrest, which soon after lost its ideological moorings.
This loss shifted the party’s focus away from any notion or perspective of working class and national unity by meaningful alliances as necessities for national development. Worse, Dr. Luncheon settled for a career in public relations and administration and serving in secretarial capacities after losing, gradually from 1997 and conclusively from 2001, any significant influence over party or government policy.
The Cummingsburg Accord is a creative political strategy. It is to the credit of the leaderships of the political parties that they were able to compromise and accomplish an agreement in such a short time. No political party would like to read this, but this kind of alliance comes right out of the playbook of Cheddi Jagan, had he been in the same situation. As past experience has shown, he might even have been prepared to sacrifice the presidency, as he would have done in 1977 or 1985 in favour of the PNC during the worst periods of bitterness between the two parties.
Not having obtained the presidential candidacy, the AFC in return secured the prime ministerial position, chair of the cabinet, control over domestic affairs, including home affairs, agriculture, which oversees the sugar and rice industries where a large portion of PPP supporters are located, the HPS position, and dominant influence over cabinet appointments. The AFC’s campaign will therefore seek to convince PPP supporters that their interests would be protected as part of the national interest. The AFC obviously hopes that this will convince former PPP supporters who voted for the AFC in 2011 to remain and to convince existing PPP supporters to switch sides to the alliance.
In 1980 and 1985 PNC supporters did not turn out to vote for the PNC despite the overwhelming ‘victory’ of the PNC at those elections. Apart from being frustrated with their own party, they felt that it would ‘win’ anyway. In 1992, when it was clear that PNC power was threatened, PNC supporters turned out in full force and solidarity.
In 2011 PPP supporters behaved somewhat similarly to PNC supporters in 1980 and 1985, though less extensively so. Will former or lapsed PPP supporters return to the fold on 11 May 2015 as PNC supporters did in 1992, or remain with the AFC, now in alliance with APNU?