The election results were not anticipated even though some felt that the Party would face new challenges at the elections. Now for the first time the Party holds a minority of seats in the National Assembly.
Under the relevant provisions of the Constitution, designed by Burnham and imposed upon Guyana, we are entitled to the Presidency and the President has the power to appoint a government. We chose the course of a minority government rather than inviting one or both opposition parties to join us in a coalition.
A minority government is by its nature unstable. A minority government by its nature has to rely on Opposition support to carry through policies. Minority governments by their nature do not have a long life.
As a minority government we need the support of the Opposition in Parliament. If we had a coalition government we would need the support of the Cabinet. Of course, it is far easier to negotiate the support of Cabinet colleagues than obtain that of Parliamentary adversaries.
We appear to have embraced a strategy of Governmental and Parliamentary negotiation with the expectation that if it does not work, then there will be early elections. In those elections our strategy will be to paint the AFC as part of the APNU. It is expected that this strategy will cause our supporters to return to us and that we will win an absolute majority.
Is this strategy the right one for us?
Suppose we return to elections and the results are the same or similar, as many people, including many who sit right here, believe. What next? Do we go over the process again?
It seems to me that having been in office for twenty years, and having reached these crossroads, this is a time for reflection about the next twenty years.
A review of our current and future electoral strength, the impact of a declining base population, the impact on our supporters of our longevity in office, what exactly were their concerns that caused some to vote for the AFC and some to stay at home. More importantly, we need to consider where we want to be in future – whether we want to continue in minority governments if we cannot win a majority or whether we will form coalitions and with whom.
The alternative is short term planning with no strategic objective or vision.
It is idle speculation to believe that we will restore the status quo ante at new elections held sometime this year. Our supporters by and large believe that but they are not being heard. It will take much time and effort to regain their trust. Even so, the Indian population is dwindling. And we have gained no advantage from the growing Amerindian population.
Having regard to the above, we are on a trajectory both for demographic and incumbency reasons that will make it difficult, if not impossible, for us to indefinitely sustain an absolute majority status. We have only been at the highest only 20,000 votes, if so many, ahead of minority status. Everybody had to be aware of the double danger of a dwindling of the Indian population and the thin numerical and percentage advantage that we had.
Important questions arise if we believe that we will not be able to sustain an absolute majority, even if we obtain it at the next elections.
Should we wait until those elections are over before we undertake these discussions?
If we fail to gain an absolute majority, will the Opposition give us a chance to discuss anything or will they pull the plug on us again and again until we invite them into the government?
Does our Party need to remain in Government if we are to fulfill our historic mission of protecting and defending the poor, disadvantaged and the working people or should we go into the Opposition?
If we look at the long term future of the Party should we consider alliances with the other parties represented in the National Assembly?
I believe that by virtue of having the constitutional ability to hold on to the Government, we are laboring under a misapprehension of the meaning of the election results and the transformation that it has wrought. Our argument about the Speaker, about the Committee of Selection, about the Parliamentary Committees, about the Supplementary Estimates, about which even I have written in support of the Government, about proportionality, are all untenable, have no merit and are meaningless while the Opposition holds the majority of seats. We do not seem to understand that we will get nowhere with the posture we have adopted even though our lack of progress is staring us in the face. Fulminating until we are blue in the face, even if our pigmentation allows that to happen, will get us nowhere.
Our great leader and founder knew and understood that Guyana needed a political solution to enable us to advance through the ethnic divisions manifesting themselves in political divisions. He knew it in the 1940’s and so he created a PPP in 1950 as a coalition of social forces. The split took place in 1955 and racial voting commenced in 1957 and solidified in 1961. The ethnic significance dawned on us in all its enormity with the riots of 1962. We began the search for alliances forced by the instabilities created by ethnic and political disturbances.
Our efforts between 1961 and 1964 were to establish a coalition government with the PNC. In 1975 we advanced Critical Support. In 1977 we proposed the National Patriotic Front. In 1985 we held talks with the PNC at its invitation. All our efforts were rejected except that in 1985 Burnham died and Hoyte called of the talks.
‘Winner does not take all’ was a policy that started in 1977. Throughout the 1980s that was our constant refrain. As late as 1991, when we knew that the opposition was likely to win the elections, he promised ‘winner does not take all.’ We also know that the election results since 1992 have postponed consideration of any sort of alliance based political solution. I dismiss the Civic Alliance as not being material to this discourse because I am talking about an alliance that brings to the table the African working class support. The Civic did no such thing and is capable of doing no such thing.
Our well known alliance policy embraced not only the PNC. All the opposition parties were part of various formulations at one time or another including the VLD and the PCD. In 1978/9 we had the Citizens Committee. There were other individual alliances. Our governmental ally is the Civic, an unorganized group of individuals with no independent political views. But make no mistake. Our target for alliance was always the PNC because our entire political being has always been focused on a united working class. That cannot happen without the PNC.
Cde Cheddi knew and understood that the issue of a political solution would never leave the agenda notwithstanding our majority. Some who want to remember will recall the frustrations he expressed from time to time about the hindrances to political progress. On one occasion he said “we cannot continue this way.” Comrades will also remember him grasping at straws when he spoke about and popularised the “Mandela Formula” even though the circumstances were hardly applicable to Guyana. He either wrote or got an editorial written on it in the Chronicle. He understood the need to keep attention on a political solution alive because he knew it would never go away, whatever the temporary circumstances which would postpone consideration of it.
We have now violated in the most egregious manner the hallowed principle of ‘winner does not take all’ initiated as part of Party policy in the National Patriotic Front in 1977 and repeatedly articulated by Cde Cheddi in the 1970s, 1980s and as I said earlier, up to 1991.
We cannot keep honouring Cde Cheddi year after year and treat with the policies which most characterize his vision, his humanity, his nobility in such a cavalier fashion. It is not my intention to lecture anybody here and I certainly am not the custodian Cheddi Jagan’s vision. The Party is. And it is the Party that must ensure that his vision continue to guide us. That is all I am saying.
The circumstances are such that we need to consider the future of the PPP. We are completing twenty years in office this year. We have to look at the next twenty years and contemplate whether we will have the support of the majority of the electorate during this period or, if not, if we expect to operate in a minority government for all or most of this period. Should we consider only those policies of Cde Cheddi that are convenient and leave out those that are relevant but inconvenient?
The current situation is clearly untenable and cannot continue. I suggest that it is important that the Party should seek to remain in power for as long as possible. I would support an all-Party Government but only Cheddi could have persuaded the Party, and he did succeed in doing so in 1977, to invite the PNC into the Government. However, I believe that the Party will not go down that route any time soon, if ever. But I needed to mention my position and some of our recent history in order that Cde Cheddi’s more inconvenient ideas remain alive.
If we are intent on early elections in the belief that we will win them, or are unable to accept that we are in a parliamentary minority and have to seriously negotiate with the opposition and make real concessions, then we will continue on the same course, await the outcome of elections and make short term decisions based on the outcome.
We could decide to deal with the AFC. But since they are the main competitor for our voters it would mean that we have to reduce our attacks on them and reduce the possibility of us winning back our supporters. The other negatives are that their demands are substantially similar to the APNU and we would not be able significantly to wean them away. However, we might be able to expect that they will not easily reject the budget or bring down the Government.
I do not agree with the current strategy. If it works it will be a short term solution.