Leaders of multi-racial societies must have the people's trust

Stabroek News
December 28, 2001

Dear Editor,

Racial voting trends in Guyana and Trinidad and Toabgo have clearly indicated two things: (1) that members of the Indian communities in both nations have firmly established their intention to be equal participants in the national political decision making process, and (2) that this development calls for mature and responsible political leadership by uniting these multiracial societies behind one vision of national development with equal rights and opportunities.

Historically, heads of government, their political appointees, and even the lower level operatives of the ruling parties in the Caribbean were dominated by people of African descent. Citizens of African descent were also arguably seen as the targeted beneficiaries of government programmes, jobs and contracts.

Of course, citizens of Indian descent also benefited, however, their political involvement and access to opportunities seemed somewhat limited to the scope and latitude given by the established and ruling parties. Whether that limitation forced them to negotiate in fear just to get along, rather than being outright fearful of negotiating, is not clear.

But what is clear today is that by repeatedly using their sheer numbers as negotiating leverage via the polls, they have levelled the playing field in order to fairly compete, without resorting to levelling the competition in order to dominate the playing field.

This is a development that should make no one angry or insecure, but serve as a wake up call that political inclusiveness should not be limited to partisan bodies and their ideological views, but all races, especially those who felt or still feel marginalized. "I don't want hand outs. I want to be a helping hand in the decision making and distribution process," seems to be the reverberating cry of everyone.

With racial voting in Guyana and Trinidad providing both major races with equal shots at the highest level of their national decision making processes, then their dreams and aspirations should be blended into one colourful picture for all to see and then they should be encouraged to give life to that picture by together propelling their respective nations forward.

That blending is the job of mature and responsible political leadership that is aware of the past mistakes of manipulating races for political gain and to avoid repeating them. A kind of empathizing leadership that hears the cries of the races for unity and equality, yet visionary by providing an overarching rainbow of hope under which all races can rally and work to fulfil their collective dreams and aspirations.

Any leader assuming such a role in either nation must have as his/her chief qualification, the people's trust. Not a university degree or years of partisan political involvement. Simple trust. The other qualifications will fall in line in time, as they, too, will prove valuable as real circumstances will reveal.

The PPP/Civic Government and the Opposition PNC/Reform post election agreement to work via committees on areas of mutual concern to their constituents and the nation's interest, require that element of trust which the two major races in Guyana are looking for.

However, with the PNC/Reform's recent expression of dissatisfaction with the rate of progress of the talks between the committees, this element of trust is adversely affected. The PNC/Reform probably has sound reasons for its position, but what are the people to make of the whole exercise to date? Who is right and who is wrong? Who to trust? Is there a need for an independent review? Then who or what body will the two parties accept or trust as impartial?

Across the Atlantic, who knows whether our Trini brethren were looking at our situation to determine if a somewhat similar working together formula might work for them following their recent elections tie that produced no winner and no official government? If so, how will Guyana's new development affect their deliberations and ultimate decision? It is possible Guyana may have to learn from Trinidad, instead, before we can go forward as one people, one nation, and with one common destiny.

Whatever our Guyanese leaders (Bharrat Jagdeo and Desmond Hoyte) or their Trinidadian counterparts (Basdeo Panday and Patrick Manning) decide to do, regarding feasible formulas for governing between now and both countries' next elections, it is necessary for them to recognize the change that is taking place, countenance the challenge of uniting the races in their respective societies, and provide the channels necessary for a unified march into the future.

Neither country has a bright future if racial competition is allowed to fester, and while the blame for such may be laid at the feet of the recognized leaders, it is the people who ultimately suffer the greatest pain and loss.

Two thousand and two may be a year in which both the leaders and supporters of Guyana and Trinidad's two major political parties may be severely tested, and while anything is possible, I can only pray that maturity and responsibility will prevail in order to assure peace and stability key ingredients for growth and fruitfulness.

Yours faithfully,

Emile Mervin