Ian on Sunday
April 1, 2001
This seems to be a race in
which there is no finishing tape but only endless running towards mutual
exhaustion. It seems - I write it with sadness but also with a strong
sense of inevitability - that we are not going to have anything like a
gracious concession, much less a warm shake of the hand and "well done"
acknowledgement with a simple vow to do better next time bringing a
sporting conclusion to the matter. Queensberry rules and Westminster model
are concepts that simply do not apply here. It has been clear for a long
time that we ourselves are somehow going to have to invent how this game
is played and how it ends. We have not done very well so far.
If the result of this election - free, fair, transparent, closely observed, clear-cut, unanimously certified and fully adjudicated - cannot be accepted then no election in Guyana, I repeat no election, can ever be accepted except an election which both main
parties win - if you get my drift. In such circumstances, of what use is an election and indeed of what use is the Constitution?
As I wrote those words it did occur to me that perhaps the result of this election might have been more readily accepted if there had indeed been two winners - in other words, if the PPP/C had won the Presidency and the PNC/R with the others had won the
Parliament. That might have made life easier for Guyana. That might have introduced dialogue and inclusion not by winner's choice but by institutional necessity and probably that would have been a good thing. But that did not happen. Mr. Bharrat Jagdeo won the Presidency easily and the PPP/C won the Parliament. That should have settled matters but, plainly, it hasn't.
In this situation, God knows what unreasonable elements in the society are hoping to achieve. But, as I understand it, reasonable elements in the opposition while accepting that the PPP/C won the March 19th election insist that a 53% majority cannot be construed in Guyana as conferring 100% governing authority on the winner.
Such an interpretation is not exactly in line with democratic practice a la Westminster but in the circumstances of Guyana it is an interpretation which has been around for a long time, which has now emerged very precisely, and which will have to be taken seriously by President Jagdeo and his party.
What is being forcefully urged is that the 42% of the population represented by the PNC/R must see, feel, and quite quickly actually experience tangible evidence that those who represent their interests have a real share in making the policies, supervising the programmes and exercising the powers directly affecting the lives of the 42%. This, it is urged, cannot be left to the goodwill, the good intentions, the rhetorical promises, even the actual, but unilaterally conferred, "scraps from the table" rewards and benefits of the Government of the day.
There is one large immediate advantage in taking this democratically unorthodox interpretation seriously. It might prevent Guyana being put further through the wringer of legal challenge and election petition, the accompanying dialogue of the deaf, and the permanent political instability and consequential economic stagnation which has tormented and traumatised the society for so long - what the Chief Justice succinctly sums up as national "self-flagellation", a sort of Purgatory in which we wander like lost souls uncertain about our future and the future of our children.
There is a good case for giving serious consideration - through urgent dialogue at the top level of Government and Opposition - how best in specific ways and through agreed institutions to give effect to the concept "loser takes quite a lot."
However, there is no hope - nor should there be - of such a dialogue getting properly started if the results of a valid election under the Constitution are not acknowledged, unrest in the streets continue, mob rule threatens, incitement to mistrust, lawlessness, and even hatred poisons relations between the races and the country gradually becomes ungovernable. Along that way if long pursued looms not purgatory but the Inferno. Now surely is the time for all men and women of goodwill and love of country to raise their voices for peace and, within peace, a lasting accommodation between the "sides."
As I was writing this column, in depression approaching despair I have to confess, I was also reading in between times an article on Dante Alighieri and The Divine Comedy, which has been called the most magnificent single poem ever written- As I read, my depression did not exactly lift but at least entering into the world of great poetry I was able to put into some sort of perspective the trouble and violence and malice and irrationality and incipient anarchy which exists in Guyana at this time. After all, Dante was himself cruelly mistreated and driven into exile from his beloved Florence by political violence and so he knew a thing or two about a bitterly divided society, civil disorder and virulent public discord. In Canto VI of the Purgatorio just listen to this resounding indictment of his native land and tell me if you do not hear an echo:
Oh slavish Italy, hostel of wretchedness,
ship with no pilot in the great tempest .....
while those now living in you are forever
at war, and those whom one wall and one
moat enclose are gnawing on each other.
At least out of Dante's experience came great poetry. But, poor Guyana, we do not even have Martin Carter with us still to make poetry out of our woes.