Promoting consensus and a civilised political culture

Guyana Chronicle
May 13, 2000

WILL political engagement in Guyana ever evolve to a civilised construct in which all participants demonstrate respect for one another even for those who hold diametrically opposed views? Some years ago, we had reason to mention in this column two examples of what we believe to be the manifestations of civilised political cultures. The first illustration had to do with a visit made by British Prime Minister Mrs Margaret Thatcher to Moscow, to hold talks with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachyov. On the aircraft with the `Iron Lady', was the leader of the British Labour Party, who was also the leader of the Opposition. A united Britain was going to have conversation with the leader of the USSR.

The other illustration has to do with the miracle of post-apartheid South Africa. During Nelson Mandela's presidency, whenever the great man and his deputy Thabo Mbeki had to be out of the country at the same time, Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi would assume the mantle of the South African presidency, even if it was only for one day. Now such an arrangement was a phenomenal one given the individuals, the parties or constituents they represented and their historical relations. Former President Mandela and Mbeki (who is now President of South Africa) belong to the powerful African National Congress (ANC) while Chief Buthelezi heads the Inkatha Freedom Party which is made up primarily of the Zulus, who number something in the region of 12 million. In the dark days of apartheid struggle there were many bitter clashes between the ANC and the supporters of Inkatha with casualties totalling thousands. Despite this bloody history, the ANC leaders could find the grace in their hearts to implement such an arrangement which would give the seat of power to a one-time enemy for however short a period of time.

It is difficult, nay impossible, to envisage a scenario in which a delegation of the governing of the People's Progressive Party/Civic would invite the Leader of the Opposition to be a presence on the team negotiating terms with Beal Aerospace. Neither can one see a People's National Congress government appointing a representative from an opposition PPP to participate in privatisation talks of, say, the sugar industry.

Guyana's next general elections could be held within another 18 months to two years, and already the heat is rising and the atmosphere charged with bitter recriminations, rebarbative exchanges, nasty broadsides and predictable regurgitations of past misdeeds. The war is waged mainly in the print and broadcast media between the leading political animals largely to the uninterest of many small people, whose main concern is to eke out a living for themselves and their children in this `hard guava season'.

We sometimes recall with nostalgia the political times of pre-independent Guyana when Bourda Green and the Parade Ground were transformed into theatres for the orators and charismatic leaders. In those days, when television was unheard of, Guyanese looked forward to those meetings which were wonderful and cathartic events. The masters of oratory drew their energy from the lively crowds. Both the rabble-rousers and the polished politicians would ply their trade at these intimate, interactive and sometimes rambunctious events.

The power of the information age has shifted this theatre to the television set, and although we know that the tenor of the Bourda Green meetings is gone forever, we would like to see the advent of a less disputatious, less acrimonious and less polarised political culture in this dear land.