The Evolution of Guyana Politics: Issues-based Support and Voting are on the Ascendency!

0
335
Irfaan Ali

By Dr. Tara Singh

When politically aligned groups utilize incendiary rhetoric and make subliminal and even open calls for violence and revolution, such moves reflect desperation over their inability to secure state power through the ballot box. It also reveals a lack of vision, as well as their contempt for the democratic tradition of free and fair elections.

Every democratic society has become a marketplace of free ideas. Freedom of speech, buttressed by ready access to social media has expanded the Guyanese people’s views of politics and world affairs. There are signs that Guyanese are moving, though not rapidly, towards an issue-oriented approach to politics and discarding gradually an emotion-driven based political system.

The Amerindians had heavily supported the United Force but have now moved progressively towards the PPPC and to a lesser extent the PNCR. The Amerindian based GAP (Guyana Amerindian Party) and the LJP (Liberty and Justice Party) have not been able to secure a Parliamentary seat by themselves.

The Amerindians voted on issues rather than on race preference. To understand the significance of this situation, the Amerindians could theoretically secure six (6) Parliamentary seats if they vote according to race preference. Instead, they have been motivated by issues and promises.

They have increasingly embraced the PPPC because this party has been responding to their needs, and fulfilling most of their promises, such as the issue of land titles, improving education and skills-set, modernize healthcare services, construct homes under IDB funded SHHP, and job creation. The Mixed population, Chinese, and Whites are the independent voters who vote on issues. Combined with the Amerindians, these groups account for 30.9% of the population and have the potential to elect 19 Members of Parliament. Thus, if any political party wants to secure state power, they must embrace issues as central to their campaign and rely less on race-based voting.

At the 2011 regional and general elections, a substantial number of traditional PPPC supporters (mostly Indo-Guyanese) voted across party line for the APNU and AFC parties, based on issues and promises, and not on race preference. This resulted in the PPPC losing their Parliamentary majority to the APNU+AFC parties. This trend of voting by a segment of traditional PPPC voters continued onto 2015, when an estimated 11% of Indo-Guyanese cast their votes for the APNU+ AFC coalition which won state power. However, at the 2020 polls, most of those voters returned to the PPPC because the coalition did not carry out their promises (closed the sugar estates, laid off 7,000 workers, failed to offer $9,000 per bag of paddy, etc.). Contrary to belief by some political pundits, this example shows that PPPC supporters understand the force of issues around which they could be mobilized. PNCR leaders as well as supporters could not afford to ignore this development but to study it carefully in plotting their future political viability.

With no race group in the majority, securing state power has become extremely competitive: a process accentuated by the increasing emphasis on issues and the whittling away of race preference (and the discarding of anti-democratic baggage like violence, revolution and incendiary rhetoric). Yet there are opposition elements that do not seem to understand the nature of political evolution of Guyana, and still adhere to vile ideas as violence and revolution to secure state power.

It is noted with great trepidation, for example, a very troubling development in the political perception of some PNC aligned supporters who have issued an open call to violence and even a revolution. Destabilization efforts and calls for violence including revolution will destroy not only Guyanese dreams but also wreck the new road to prosperity that is being laid out by the government. And all Guyanese will be the losers. Instead, Guyanese must build upon what is already there, though the process might not be easy.

Some PNCR supporters cannot come to grip with their party’s loss of the 2020 regional and national elections. For how long more would they be in denial? All the western diplomatic missions, including the US, CARICOM, and OAS (Organization of American States) agreed that the PPPC won the elections fairly. Not finding support for their allegation of electoral irregularity, they quickly vilified and demonized the esteemed team of CARICOM professionals and leaders, as well as Election Observer Teams.

We cannot emphasize enough, our deep concern over the incitement of violence against the legally elected government of Guyana. While a person’s rights to free speech and his right to defend his group for any perceived wrong, are recognized, such outbursts of hate and violence laden speeches go beyond the norms of civility, especially since these allegations have no empirical support. They have, for example, alluded to PPPC’s racial discrimination and to allegations that the PPPC government killed 420 Black men.

With respect to job discrimination, the reality is that 70% of public service workers are Afro-Guyanese, 90% of the army personnel are Afro-Guyanese, 75% of the Police Force are Afro Guyanese, 70% of nurses are Afro Guyanese, 65% of teachers are Afro-Guyanese, and 80% of the academic staff at the University of Guyana are Afro-Guyanese. The proportion of the Afro-Guyanese in the general population is 29%. How could anyone make out a case for race discrimination, particularly institutional racism?

As to the killings, those were murders committed during the PPPC’s governance in the early 2000s. The Stabroek News did an analysis of the murders and published the results for public consumption. First, not all the listed 420 persons killed were Black men; 119 for example, were Indo-Guyanese. Second, many of those murders took place because of confrontation between the police and criminal gangs; others were killed by gang members in gang warfare; many were killed in family/domestic problems; while a few were killed when they tried to topple the government. During the APNU-AFC regime many more murders were recorded than the 420. The PPPC did not kill anyone. It is just like blaming the US President for all those murders committed in the inner cities.

Guyanese groups in the USA, Canada, and other parts of the diaspora, join with Guyanese at home to strongly condemn advocacy of violence and hate speech directed at fellow Guyanese. It is heartening to know that Guyanese at home have ignored such chilling calls for violence against a democratically elected government. Guyana is a pluralist nation and people have learned to respect one another’s diversity. Creating racial hostility and advocating partition, are symptoms of desperation.

Under the “One Guyana” initiative, Guyanese must continue to build on this (societal cohesion) and thus paving the way for the good life for all, irrespective of race, religion, gender of disability. As a nation, Guyana faces incredible obstacles to combat the Covid-19 pandemic, the loss of jobs, and the devastating floods that ravaged the agriculture sector. Focus must be directed onto rebuilding the economy and getting students back to school, as well as, getting the unemployed back to work. Guyanese should not allow the calls for violence and the spewing of incendiary rhetoric to derail the country’s development trajectory. Guyanese should continue to support each other and ignore and isolate those with radical and racist motives.

The ascendancy of issues in the political arena and the corresponding relegation of race-based politics, should allow for the creation of a new culture of inclusivity and accountability. Guyana needs builders and not destroyers or detractors.

_____________________________________________

The views expressed in this column are solely those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the THE WEST INDIAN.