If you take away freedom...`I' will die

by Festus L. Brotherson, Jr.
Guyana Chronicle
September 5, 1999

IF POLITICAL legitimacy is the right to rule conferred by popular will, then adherence to its principles justifies continued exercise of power by the elected PPP/Civic government.

This adherence to principles is a sacrosanct expectation of masses in old democracies and newly emerging ones like Guyana's.

It is a social contract which binds everyone to respect authority and divergent opinion.

It produces hope and efficacy between people and government,

efficacy being a rationally developed inclination for cooperation when most citizens feel their opinions matter and their interests will be addressed. Two principles of legitimacy can be summarised thus: when you lose an election, demonstrate magnanimity in the

interest of the state and society; when you win, demonstrate grace and reaching out to avoid perceptions of what John Stuart Mill and others called 'tyranny of the majority.'

When these principles are respected, pragmatically responsive leadership becomes welcomingly resourceful. It makes moral agents of leaders who then inspire supporters, the apathetic and

even enemies into higher, nobler excellencies along with the leaders themselves.

Positive, profound transformation of society then occurs.

Sometimes, this social contract is tested by dictatorial reactions to peoples' perceptions just because they don't always square with special views. The glue of trust between people and officialdom softens.

In 1970s Guyana, the tactic was to declare persons "enemies of the state," a reaction that gave birth to authoritarian government. As some in the current government say from time to time, perceptions become realities in fearful people's minds in troubled state and society.

Bullying modern 'enemies of the state' is a fearful response to people's fears. It is why the great thinker Guglielmo Ferrero said "legitimate government is a power that has lost its fear as far as possible because it has learned to depend as much as it can on active or passive consent, to reduce proportionately the use of force," and (paraphrasing) threats of it, and tactics that malign anyone who moves away from preferred robotic lock-step response.

This makes bases of political legitimacy which are usually quite strong, fragile at the same time. The Stabroek News of August 28, citing viciousness in one opposition party organ, called for less of it in all political party organs.

This standard should apply to other newspapers as well.

In the above described tenuousness, new leaders are compelled to strengthen and win wider political legitimacy in fractured polities. Newness to office provides a grace period for goal-setting over the short and long term.

In the short term, the focus should first be on consolidation of power even though it cannot be achieved in a single swoop. Just showing difference and sending needed signals are helpful. At

the same time, new leaders should embark on re-thinking long-term goals while making tactical adjustments to short-term ones to alleviate crises.

Consolidation of power, goal-settings, adjustments are intertwined. Examples of how to handle them skilfully come from Nelson Mandela's first several months as the new president of a then volatile South Africa. New leaders should introduce new laws that show responsiveness and, above all, fairness - and ensure

these are obeyed by leaders themselves.

Next, new leaders should pursue what is called "magnificent

feats" that make citizens feel proud and inclusive through rebirth of positive nationalism. Finally, new leaders should trust the passage of time for validation.

From observation, the new President of Guyana, Mr. Bharrat Jagdeo, is off to a good start on these fronts. Continuing expressions of support from so many opinion leaders, interest groups and power brokers in various sectors of the country and from overseas are aiding consolidation of power; as is his reaching out to the masses. The intention to hold a retreat with the business community and to institutionalise non-prejudicial awards' practices and new technologies signal re-examination of short and long-term goals while adjusting the former to cope with immediate crises - especially in the economy and race relations.

These steps are starting to rebuild efficacy. Magnificent feats would include solving the electricity, water supply, drainage and flood problems.

In 1998, popular American rap star, Usher, had a hit song called `My Way'. It is lyrically fancy and the video is mesmerising for the extent to which the star goes to make sure his new girlfriend "likes it my way."

This works well in love/war relationships. But it is sheer folly in political situations where the ability to demonstrate coalition-building skills and democratic tolerance for different opinions can spell either glorious victory or ordain the certainty of myopic defeat.

The famous poem `Separation' by celebrated Kurdish Iraqi, Sherko Bekas, is also worthy of reflection: "If within my poems, You take out the flower from the four seasons, One of my seasons will

die. If you exclude love, Two of my seasons will die. If you exclude bread, Three of my seasons will die. And if you take away freedom, All four seasons and I will die."

Obviously, "I" means "democratic state and society".

Hello! Is anyone really listening?

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