Many Guyanese are in despair arising out of the political deadlock and the failure of our politicians to resolve it. Many understand that relying only on the judiciary can only result in winners and losers. One round of the perpetual ethno-political competition would be over with the completion of the court proceedings. Whatever the outcome, the next round would come with the elections, whether held this year or next year. In this sense, the decision of the CCJ will solve nothing that is fundamental to the reality of Guyana’s existence and its challenges.
Whatever the CCJ’s decision and whenever the elections are held, Guyana’s problems will remain and would be no nearer to a solution. The economic slowdown will persist, poverty and unemployment will continue to increase, a high crime rate will perhaps get worse, corruption will grow by leaps and bounds and the ethno-political contest, an important driver of most of the above, will be no nearer to a solution.
Many Guyanese, at the limit of their tolerance about recent developments and persistent economic and social problems, are cynical about oil revenue and have no expectation that the oil income will benefit Guyana and certainly not the poor. They believe that much of it will be lost to corruption and whichever Government is in office will find ways of channeling the remainder into the pockets of their supporters and friends.
Notwithstanding this state of affairs, the majority of the Guyanese people continue to place their fate in the hands of their ethnic parties only to have the losers disappointed when elections are held. The stark reality is that there is not enough to satisfy all the needs of everyone and the stark belief is that whichever party is in power directs all the resources to its supporters, half of the ethnic divide. While debating the riches, or lack thereof, of Indians, the dire need to ameliorate the consequences the ethno-political divisions is forgotton, so that all can share equitably in what Guyana has to offer. And few advocate that the ethno-political issue can be addressed in a collegial atmosphere by a political system that encourages the solution to such problems. Frustration is so deep that the venerable Yesu Persaud advocates the abolition of Politicians! No one needs to be poor, he says. Many would agree.
Few dare to speak out, like Yesu Persaud, and most dutifully cast their ballot for their ethnic kin at election time to ensure that ‘the other side doesn’t get on top.’ Guyana has had the PNC in office for 33 years and the PPP for 23 years. While our economic fortunes have varied, Guyana remains largely poor, crime ridden, corruption soaked, economically undeveloped, a producer of five raw materials, and divided by a perpetual ethno-political struggle. The next round of elections will see a heightened competition for ethnic power and the parties offering much the same as they did in 2015. The candidates will be equally dull and unspiring. The parties have no incentive to resolve our problems because ethnic power is better than no power at all.
Over the past few weeks many persons have called for discussions, mediation, a national unity government, foreign assistance, sanctions by foreign countries and other measures to resolve the immediate political problems. None of these have materialized because they cannot penetrate the ethno-political haze that surrounds our political parties, which reflect the ethnic realities of our society. Those realities are that each ethnic group blames the other for much that is wrong in the society. The argument is that if that ethnic group would only change its behavior, then everything would be fine. We know that the reality is quite different but that this ethnic-political perception will continue to persist, as it has since the elections of 1957, until something is done about it.
By and large Guyanese are comfortable in their ethno-political enclaves. They feel safe and protected, although the losing side feels marginalised. There is also, contradictorily, a simultaneous feeling that ‘unity’ is something worthwhile to be struggled for. That is why political parties can safely call at election time for shared governance or something similar (PPP in 1992 and APNU+AFC 2015) and obtain support for it. We now know that neither intends to honour such promises because the supporters of the winning side would be gripped by triumphalism. Why share political power when you can have it all for yourself?
There is a solution that is available. The solution is a political system of governance in which both ethnic parties share office and the development and implementation of policy. The major ethnic groups will have a seat at the table and a voice in how the distribution takes place. Such a system will not eliminate ethno-political adherence. Indeed, it is virtually impossible to do so. But a consensual system will direct ethnicity in politics into constructive channels.
Such a system will have to be determined by the people of Guyana. But to get to the stage where both political parties commit to it will require a massive effort by the Guyanese people not only to persuade them to put the plan on their agenda at election time but to implement it after the elections are over and the pressure is off.