The current scenario among opposition activists, despite accusations and counter accusations as to who was responsible for the failure to establish opposition unity in 2006, is to persuade all parties to accept the candidacy of a popular figure around whom a ‘big tent’ can be created with the same objective of reducing the PPP’s support from an absolute majority to a plurality, or even win an outright majority. In the former case, this presumably will force the PPP to seek an accommodation with the opposition and, hey presto, power sharing is won.
The main opposition party, the PNCR, has had two debilitating leadership contests, one in which Vincent Alexander challenged the Leader Robert Corbin and the other in which Winston Murray was the challenger, both contests attracting accusations of vote rigging. Whatever the internal fallout from these battles, Corbin has recently declared that he will not be the Party’s presidential candidate for the 2011 elections. Speculation immediately burst forth as to who the possible candidate might be. So far no one has been identified although there has been speculation. Recent statements suggest that the process of selection is likely to be attended by controversy.
The AFC is clearly undergoing some uncertainty as to the way forward having regard to the high principles about rotation that it announced when it was established. Raphael Trotman, having been elected Leader and Presidential Candidate for the 2006 elections, was now expected to stand aside for Khemraj Ramjattan, the Party Chairman, for the 2011 elections. In the face of the AFC’s failure to attract support outside the disaffected former PNCR supporters in the 2006 elections, as the election results showed, there are clear signs that the AFC has been rethinking its rotation strategy but, apparently, in the face of internal opposition. For the time it has settled on contesting the elections on its own with Khemraj Rmajattan as its candidate. But the AFC’s upcoming convention can reverse this position. The outcome of such a reversal would be unpredictable.
Under current conditions, which can change, opposition turmoil will not permit unity and will not attract a unifying candidate for any type of ‘big tent’ approach. The PPP can therefore look forward to a comfortable reliance on its record in the election campaign. Contrary to conventional wisdom, the PPP cannot rely on established ethnic voting patterns to sustain it in office. It never did, always seeing the need for alliances. But with a declining Indian population the PPP would have been short sighted to rely on an ethnic vote. It has to rely on its well established policy of crossing the ethnic barriers for support. It did this successfully by achieving the support of the Amerindian people as well as significant African Guyanese support. Efforts in this direction are continuing daily and it is because the opposition knows this that there was such a frantic response to the President’s visit to Buxton.
The situation in Guyana is not the same as in Trinidad and Tobago, the United Kingdom or Surinam. Ethnically driven political cleavages are still strong. The middle class, which usually provide a large enough swing vote to determine elections, as in Trinidad and Tobago, was destroyed by the economic and social policies of the 1970s and 1980s. It has not yet reached the size and political independence to remotely exercise the kind of influence as seen in other countries. Consequently, political parties have to win some degree of broad based support in order to survive with credibility. The PPP led the way while it was in opposition.
It is no secret that incumbency gives advantages. But this should not be overrated. Incumbency cannot trump a poor record. And in any event, a long time in office breeds incumbency fatigue. Thus far more than incumbency, the PPP would have to rely on its record of service and achievements. In addition, I don’t think that it would be unhappy at the current state of opposition turmoil. (www.conversationtree.gy).