Our external image

Stabroek News
March 27, 1998

In her editorial in the latest issue of our monthly Business Supplement Ms Indera Sagewan-Alli made the point that our external image has suffered severely since the December elections. She said the most dire speculations were being made about the situation in Guyana in the region and elsewhere and suggested that a public relations firm be retained in an effort to repair the damage.

Ms Sagewan-Alli was not exaggerating. In the March 6 issue of the Trinidad Guardian there appears the headline "Guyana finished says Professor". The report then tells us that Professor Ralph Premdass of the University of the West Indies (UWI) described as "an expert in ethnic conflict" made the most apocalyptic statements about the situation in Guyana and what the solutions might be in a panel discussion at UWI.

Astonishing, and shocking. Does the situation really seem that desperate to some analysts in the region or is Professor Premdass expressing an extreme opinion?

There are two main political problems in Guyana today. The first is who won the last election. That is clearly important but not in our opinion the core issue. The core issue is, assuming the PPP did win the election, can the PNC ever win a fair election. If it cannot, is that a viable situation?

The PPP won the elections in l957 and l96l and it got the most votes, 45.8% to the PNC's 40.5% in l964. It almost certainly won the rigged elections of l968, l973, l980 and l985 though those results must be ignored for the purpose of this analysis. It won the l992 election and it may have won the l997 election. The real issue then would seem to be whether given racial voting patterns we may have a permanent majority and a permanent minority. If that is the case, must we not move away from the winner take all majoritarian system we now have and consider some kind of constitutional reform that will lead to power sharing of one kind or another (executive power sharing, decentralisation by strengthening the powers and revenues of the municipalities, negative minority vetos on some issues and so on).

These are the issues, we believe, that the political leaders of the PPP and the PNC should be discussing. They should look beyond the immediate issue of the audit team's report and the elections results to what comes next. Professor Premdass's views may be extreme and alarmist but the situation is certainly tense and there is no evidence of any political rapprochement or even an awareness of the underlying issues.