Guyana's politics must seek to embrace 'great possibilities'
May 15, 2000
AS THE Guyanese nation mentally moves into elections mode and as the political parties haggle over allocation of seats and the shades of meaning of `proportionality', it is a good time to recall the visit to the country of Ms Clare Short, Cabinet Minister of Britain's Labour Government led by the youthful and popular Tony Blair.
Ms Short, who visited Guyana in May 1998, uttered two admonitions. The first caveat was made while the British Minister was addressing a gathering at Canal Number One, West Bank Demerara at the commissioning of the $40M L'Oratoire Water Works. Financial assistance from her Government, she said, would only be forthcoming if "countries are serious" about poverty reduction. She was looking forward to seeing "really systematic progress in Guyana for all the poor ... whatever communities they live in".
Ms Short's second admonition spoke to the heart of the political divisiveness plaguing the country, and it came when the Minister hosted a press conference at Le Meridien Pegasus on the day of her departure.
Prefacing her remarks with the comment that Guyana had been experiencing a difficult economic period, but that the country's prospects had advanced in all sorts of spheres, Ms Short pointed out that these efforts are needed so that Guyana's politics could embrace these great possibilities which now exist for the country. She expressed the view that the nation should move away from the winner-take-all politics to a kind of inclusive politics where everyone could get behind the progress of the country.
With admirable skill, the British Secretary of State reasoned that if the country's next period could be managed very well politically, the prospects for Guyana could be great for everybody. While smoothly conceding that it was not the task of the British administration to tell the people of Guyana the direction this country should take, Ms Short stated: "But we feel there is a great opportunity for a big advance in Guyana...and we would like to be working with the country to back you in those endeavours."
Ms Short's exhortations, especially on the importance of a broader political schema that would eschew winner-take-all politics, are worthy of serious consideration by all political leaders.
One immediate benefit from this process would be a lessening of the extremes of triumphalism and bitter disgruntlement that characterise the aftermath of elections in this country. Sections of the society would not feel that there is no hope for them if the party they support loses, and other groups would not view their victory as a licence to gather all the spoils.
Ordinary citizens would have more confidence in the system of administration if they know that they would be rewarded on merit and that opportunities for higher studies, skills training and other aspects of personal development will come their way once they are eligible. When one ethnic group is seen to be in the ascendant to the marginalisation or exclusion of other groups, then there will be cause for resentment, disillusionment and hopelessness. Persons will not work and rally for progress in Guyana if they believe that they will not share in the fruits of that progress.
We humbly suggest to the country's leaders that they consider Ms Short's caveat on the need for Guyana's politics "to embrace these great possibilities".