By Dr. TARA SINGH
It has been said with great conviction that the most important regional and general elections ever to be held in Guyana will be on March 2, 2020. While some of the contesting political parties have not yet released their manifestos, election campaigning has been in full swing for several months.
The incumbent PNC/R coalition has been on the campaign trail but under the ruse of ministerial outreaches, wooing voters with material gifts which they hope will lend some credence to their new election promises. The PPP/C, as part of their strategy, has been issuing selected pieces of their manifesto to the public. The newly formed Amerindian-based Liberal and Justice Party (LJP) has already released its manifesto.
Any good manifesto must clearly lay out a vision for the country’s advancement and identify the underlying principles that will be implemented to make this vision a reality. At the forthcoming 2020 elections, Guyanese should vote for the party with a sound vision, whose development strategy is people-centered and pro-growth and which puts Guyana first; where both unemployment and poverty rates are reduced by at least ½ their current levels; where house-lots are given to those who need them urgently; where people can live without fear of being criminally victimized; where everyone is given equal access to opportunities; and where diversity in its many manifestations, flourishes.
In societies that theoretically embrace democracy, individuals are relatively free to form associations, including political parties, for the furtherance of what they perceive to be, their group’s or wider society’s advancement. For such groupings to be successful they must embrace, at a minimal level, an ideology of growth and inclusion as well as have a command of the stock of communal resources and the capacity to strike a connection with the people whom they purport to represent.
Essentially, a new group should begin its outreach at the bottom (grassroots level) and then begin to rise to the top as it enhances its experience, including an expansion of ideas on growth and progress. At a maximal level, the group that has a solid vision; that has a good track record; that has a coherent ideology; that starts from bottom up; and which readily connects with the people will have a good chance of moving progressively towards its goals. These qualities should be reinforced with such factors like building good relationships and organizational skills; readiness to delegate authority and adapt to changes; having a good grasp of organizational mission and goals; and imbued with perseverance, competence, integrity and humility.
However, these qualities may be inhibited by tradition. If a community or society has been accustomed to dominant groups that have pervaded their lives and livelihoods for decades, it would be extremely difficult for other groups to make a deep mark in that arena. Many socially oriented groups have failed because of the lack of essential leadership qualities as well as because of stiff competition from the more powerful and often entrenched forces. Smaller political parties have not only failed to make a breakthrough on the political landscape in Guyana but these have also failed throughout the English-speaking Caribbean.
In Guyana, for over 7 decades, no small political party had been able to challenge the dominance of the two major political parties, the PPP/C (People’s Progressive Party/Civic) and the PNC/R (People’s National Congress/Reform). While the WPA (Working People’s Alliance) formed in 1979 was able to muster some political support in the 1980s, its influence has since then diminished significantly. Another smaller party, AFC (Alliance for Change), emerged on the scene in 2005 and showed some promise of breaking the strangle hold that the two major political parties have had on the political system in Guyana.
In 2006, they (AFC) obtained 5 seats in Parliament but was unable to block or derail the PPP/C legislation and programs as the PPP/C had the majority of seats (N=36) in the 65 seat Parliament. The AFC continued to make some political inroads as shown by the 2011 election results when they (AFC) obtained 7 seats and they used that effectively, with the support of the PNC/R (having a combined 33 seats vs the PPP with 32 seats) to block PPP’s legislation and programs. In 2015, the AFC improved its electoral performance; it got 8 seats and together with the PNC/R they formed the government with 33 seats vs 32 seats for the PPP.
Though initially viewed as a power broker, the AFC has morphed into an appendage of the PNC/R. Its political agenda is like that of the PNC/R. The thought that AFC would serve as a power broker had died a few years ago, and that was replaced with the ascendancy of triumphalism of the PNC/R, to which they (AFC) are wedded. Thus, the dominance of a major party, PNC/R, continues with the active support of the AFC. But the AFC would not escape the electorate’s wrath for letting them down on critical issues like constitutional reform, zero tolerance for corruption, political cronyism, etc. Judging from anecdotal evidence and from the LGE 80 polls, the AFC’s national support has slumped from 12% to 4%.
The short evolution of the AFC has driven a wedge into the electorate’s fate for smaller parties. It will take a long time for other smaller parties to make their mark on the political landscape. The AFC has unwittingly placed the smaller political parties at a distinct electoral disadvantage. Despite this monumental challenge, several smaller parties (ANUG [a New & United Guyana], TNM [The New Movement], Change Guyana, FED UP, JLP [Liberal and Justice Party], URP [United Republican Party], GDP [Guyana Democratic Party, CI [Citizen Initiative]) have emerged. What’s the motivation? Is it that they feel that they could tap into the disenchantment of people caused by both the PPP’s and the PNC/R coalition’s style of governance? Or are the smaller parties motivated by the glitter of the impending oil wealth of the country? Or do they want to function as power brokers? Or is it a combination of all three factors?
It’s not our intention to ignore the smaller parties, but guided by history, it is reasonable to surmise that the 2020 regional and general elections will be a straight fight between the PPP/C and the PNC/R. Guyanese should not have any illusion anymore! The largest (AFC) of the smaller parties is no more. It has been absorbed into the PNC/R and so has been the fate of the smaller parties in the PNC/R coalition.
Our vision for Guyana can be stated in 12 main principles that are set out below.
Guyanese should vote:
- for the party that would reduce or eliminate punitive taxes on companies and the people.
- for a party that embraces diversity in terms of race, gender, age-group, and religion.
- for a party that promotes equality of access to opportunities.
- for a party that would utilize a portion (10-15%) of the net proceeds of profit oil as “conditional cash transfers.”
- for the party that gets a favorable deal for Guyana regarding oil revenues.
- for a party that has a strategic crime and drug trafficking plan.
- for a party that can restore the battered image of Guyana.
- for a party that will promote clean government, including a crackdown on corruption.
- for a party that will advance constitutional reform.
- for a party that is committed to job creation and poverty reduction.
- for a party that will initiate cheap and affordable energy
- for a party that pushes for education and health reform
As a cautionary note though, Guyanese must be very careful in the choice of voting for a political party. Also, they must not fall prey to false promises again! Above all, voters must consider which political party is more likely to embrace and implement these foundational principles. Which political party can provide the good life, not just for a few elites and the socially-connected, but for Guyanese of all backgrounds.
The views expressed in this article are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the position or policy of the THE WEST INDIAN.