Back to square one?

Stabroek News
June 30, 1999

Let us assume that the Constitutional Reform Commission does not achieve consensus on or majority support for any kind of power sharing arrangement, as seems to be the case now. Let us further assume that the process of dialogue between the two main parties does not lead in that direction, which may seem to follow logically, though not inevitably, from the former assumption (the PNC leadership could conceivably change its attitude later to a national front government or some form of power sharing and put it on the dialogue agenda).

There will thus be an election early in 200l, based on a constitution that will contain some new features but not of a consociational or power sharing nature. Let us assume that ethnic voting patterns hold or even harden and that the PPP win that election, which would seem to be the most likely result based on the election results in l992 and l997. Let us also assume that the elections are conducted efficiently and there are no obvious glitches as in l997 to justify protests or petitions (some may argue that this is an optimistic assumption as a spoiling loser can always magnify small incidents and seek to treat them as a basis for objections). The question that then arises is whether the PNC, or its more radical supporters, will accept that result in good faith and allow the new PPP government the chance to govern peacefully and effectively.

Despite its somewhat stylised formulation that is perhaps the most important question in our short term political future. We face an election campaign in another sixteen or seventeen months that will almost certainly be as divisive as previous ones. It is an election no one is looking forward to, elections have become nightmares one way or another for most Guyanese because of the attitudes they engender and the insecurities they appeal to. Is it likely that the next elections will solve our problems and lay the basis for that peaceful and orderly economic development that is so desperately needed? Or will it be just another incident in our tragic and divided political history, and, the assumptions or thrust of the Herdmanston Accord having failed, will we be back to square one?

The PPP won a fair election in l997. It has had little opportunity to govern since. It was kept out of power, originally for ideological reasons, for 28 years. It understandably feels it has justice on its side. Can it do a Mandela, so to speak, and embark on an experiment in the interests of the nation? Can it understand the limitations of the legacy it has inherited, the basic dilemma of whether winner take all elections based on the principle of rotating governments and a rational voting majority, some of whom may change their allegiance from one election to the next, that undergirds the Westminster system of democracy and its variants may not work in ethnically divided societies?

Many Guyanese feel at this stage as if they are playing minor roles in a Greek tragedy where the major actors are unable to understand what is taking place. This play has gone on far too long, the third Act, or is it the thirtieth, is boring and predictable and the leading actors on both sides have nothing new to say and are tired, bitter and uninspired. They do not realise that everyone is desperately looking for a new scenario, for a new theme, for a new play. Some will stay to the bitter end, they cannot summon the energy to transfer such energies as they possess to a foreign stage. Others will play their supporting roles without hope or conviction. But the thing has become a tragic farce and there is no plot left, only themes inherited from the past. The players are going through the motions, the lines never change.

A page from:
Guyana: Land of Six Peoples