[November 3, 1997]
Guyana today has a record number of political parties which have joined the electoral fray. However, a poll I conducted last July showed the incumbent PPP with a commanding lead over the PNC and all other parties with only minimal support. Several people (some in letters) have questioned the results of this poll arguing that the so called mini-parties would do much better than I predicted. The hope among some of the opposition politicians, especially those allied with the PNC, is that together the mini-parties would siphon off enough votes from the PPP to derail its chances of winning an overall majority in the up coming elections, even deny the PPP the presidency. This is a real possibility though it does not look quite conceivable at this time.
If indeed each of the (perceived Indian-based) parties can pool a few thousand votes, then the PPP would most certainly be denied a majority. In fact, this could also make it possible for Hoyte to squeak ahead of Mrs. Jagan as President since the President is elected by a plurality; and the President forms the government regardless if he or she has a majority in the parliament. Such a possibility worries a lot of people and could lead us to the December 1964 electoral outcome. The PPP is warning the nation of a recurrence of December 1964 when the PNC formed a coalition with a "mini-party" and we all know too well what happened afterwards; it took us 28 years to remove the dictatorship.
Guyanese learned a lot from the experience of 1964 and did not split their votes in the 1992 election to allow the dictatorship to remain in office. The 28 years experience is still fresh in their minds, from what they told me in my survey last July, and I don't think they would experiment again any time soon with any of the mini-parties. Also, there is ample evidence to show that Guyanese lack confidence in mini-parties. Going back to the 1960s, very popular personalities who formed political parties were unable to win a seat in parliament. Hosein Ghanie of G.U.M.P and Balram Singh Rai of the Justice Party come to mind. Also, in 1992, the U.R.P and the D.L.M, both of which pulled large crowds at their rallies, were unable to make a dent in PPP strongholds. The U.F was almost eliminated from parliament and my poll shows that the party is unlikely to hold on to its seat.
Some of the mini-parties, such as the WPA, have excellent ideas and will make a useful contribution if it is part of a government; the WPA, however, according to my poll is having a tough time to increase its base of support although in the end the party could poll a couple of seats. Two other mini-parties, the Justice For All and the Guyana Democratic Party, seem to be making a dent in traditional PPP strongholds that could propel each in parliament with a seat. But can they hold on to their base? I suspect in the end they would become victims of the nature of our polity and (the realpolitik of) the two-party political system.
The Good and Green for Guyana, which has support that could win it one or two seats, may not suffer the same fate as the other mini-parties because of its proven strength in the Georgetown municipal elections. I don't think the party would do as well as it did in municipal elections because Afro-Guyanese who voted for Green as Mayor told me they want to keep him as Mayor and they would vote for Hoyte as President because they feel Hoyte stands a better chance than Green to defeat the PPP. And they strongly feel the mushrooming of mini-parties will help the PNC's chances.
But I do not think the mini-parties will make a major dent into the traditional "two-party" system. Guyanese have learned from the 1964 experience and are mature enough not to put us in another similar predicament. But that choice remains theirs. And I have confidence in their judgement.
As the election is approaching, the voters seems confused as to which party to vote for, since both the PPP and PNC did not live up to their promises and the people's expectations, especially on the aspect of corruption, cost of living (salaries), the rice farmers, health etc.
We must admit that voting is polarised especially among the two major races and once the PPP and PNC remain this will continue to be so especially among the less educated voters, who will vote by "emotion" rather than the national good of Guyana. Once the people vote race, they are not voting objectively and as a result they will be voting for their own suffering and disunity. Consequently they should not blame the PPP and PNC for any shortcomings.
The other 21 parties do not make it any easier, as a matter of fact they add more confusion to the already confused voters. As a result, these smaller parties are enhancing polarisation to a large extent. It is clear that everyone wants to be "President" representing their own ego and not the interest of the people. Any school boy will tell you that as long as so many "one man parties" exist the PPP and PNC will be the two main competing parties, until such time as the smaller parties come together namely the GDP and the WPA.
In India all the small parties came together and won the election even with a communist party included. The Guyanese people need an all race party, comprising experienced, talented men with a proven record of integrity, where they can vote with confidence that this party will represent everyone's interest thus eliminating this cancer of racial fear and enchancing unity once again as one people, one nation and one destiny.
Can you imagine over 20 parties with only 425,000 voters, everyone wants to be president, a country pregnant with natural resources, rich in culture and people are undergoing untold suffering and frustration?
The Guyana situation was discussed with some colleagues of mine and the following are their recommendations:
1) the smaller parties should form one party and speak with one voice;
2) this one party must comprise people representing all races, colours, and creeds;
3) members of the PPP and PNC, who care about the people's interest and not their ego, must be encouraged to defect and join this party;
4) policies must reflect the needs of the people;
5) the party manifesto must state clearly the system that will be put in place to curb corruption;
6) the party manifesto must state clearly the level of people participation in the decision making process;
7) the party manifesto must state clearly how they will deal with essential weak areas eg, rice marketing, health, law and order etc;
8)a three party race at the polls will better deal with the majority of people's interest, because of a likely coalition.