A dose of reality

Stabroek News
March 25, 2001

What is needed now is a large dose of reality.

Reality No. 1:

Despite some inefficiencies on the part of the Elections Commission and cases of disenfranchisement, the 2001 election was to all intents and purposes free and fair. The majority of the Guyanese population is so persuaded, as are the plethora of foreign observers, and by extension the international community.

Any attempt to suggest otherwise, therefore, will be seen as cynical and opportunistic by most members of the public.

Reality No. 2:

This election, like its predecessors, was in large measure another ethnic tally. Given the fact that the electorate is still following a decades-old voting pattern, and that Indian numbers exceed those of Africans, the PNC goes into any poll with a built-in handicap.

Developing long-term strategies to deal with this reality will probably require that the PNC make a scientific study of voting patterns, and that they do whatever is necessary to overhaul the image of the party. With regard to the voting patterns, they increased their vote in their own stronghold this time, but did not improve their position in other regions. A return to power at the very least would be premised on garnering votes from non-African voters such as those in the hinterland, possibly also on forging alliances with parties who already have a hinterland electorate, doing a great deal of hard work over a very extended time-frame in the interior and elsewhere, and making a larger dent in the PPP vote than ROAR did on March 19.

Where this latter is concerned, the PNC would have to be prepared over a lengthy period to demonstrate to Indian voters that this is not the party of the absolutist years, and that its return to power is not something to be feared. The addition of the Reform component this time around has clearly not quelled unease in the Indian community, supplying evidence - if any were needed - that there is no short cut to solving this issue.

In the short and medium term, of course, the only game in town for the PNC is inclusiveness in government at some level, and one hopes that the leadership is prepared to work out a position to form the basis of negotiations with the administration which would guarantee that the party has some say in the decision-making process.

Reality No. 3:

Where the PNC is concerned, this is the end of the line for post-electoral filibustering, and most of all, for violence. The party has no choice in the long term but to work within a democratic framework, and its challenge, as noted above, is to find viable strategies within that framework to deal with Reality No. 2.

Leaving aside everything else for the moment, on moral grounds alone it cannot be seen to condone, either actively or passively, assaults committed by its supporters on Indians or anyone else.

From a practical point of view, in 1998, it was the disorder on the streets of Georgetown which brought the nation under the tutelage of Caricom, and further violence will in turn give excuse for even greater international interference in Guyana's internal affairs. After having poured so much money into the democratization of this country, the donor nations are unlikely to stand by and allow it to dissolve into anarchy.

In other words, although some supporters of the PNC/Reform seem to hold to the conviction that violence will cause the newly elected government to disappear, it will not. This is not the nineteen sixties, and we are no longer in the Cold War. The world has changed, and in these new circumstances rioting is not just an inappropriate response, but it is also one which will do irreparable damage to the party and its adherents. The PNC has to educate and restrain its supporters in this regard.

Furthermore, as indicated above, driving fear into the population and/or racking up the tension are hardly strategies designed to raise the PNC's vote quota over the 42 per cent mark.

It might be added that overwhelming numbers of those who put their X beside the Palm Tree last week, want a peaceful environment as much as those who didn't; the stress of the last three years has worn down the nation's psyche and drained the energy of all its citizens.

Reality No. 4:

There can no longer be government as usual. We have come to the end of the line as far as 'winner takes all' is concerned. The governing party needs to accept that in our context democracy is not made of free and fair elections alone. It has now to swallow something which it has doggedly resisted for eight-and-a-half years, namely, a dilution of its power. Exactly what institutional arrangements that would involve will have to be negotiated, but as suggested in a front page comment in Stabroek News a week last Saturday, it could include, among other things, investing Parliament with greater powers.

Reality No. 5:

We can go no further with a government party which leans towards total control over institutions as well as appointments. No modern society can function effectively if party loyalty takes precedence over competence. We cannot afford to go on excluding the skills of one half of the society. The PPP too has to revamp its image, and sideline many of the stalwarts who gained prominence in its administration by virtue of their dedicated service to the party and nothing else.

Reality No. 6

Both parties feel a sense of oppression when the other side is in office. The PPP appears not to have understood the extent of the alienation of the voters in the PNC constituencies. They have not given recognition to the sense that the Africans consider themselves indigenous and feel that they have been marginalised in their own land.

For its part, the PNC seems oblivious to the great sense of injustice among the Indian population that the twenty-eight years caused. They too have to understand the sense of alienation that causes the Indian electorate not to risk splitting the vote, as it is called, lest it open an avenue for the PNC to accede to power.

We are at a crossroads. The politicians hold the future in their hands. May their decisions reflect an acknowledgement of the reality and a commitment to the nation and its people.