Sad flag-raising farce in Guyana Guest editorial
Guyana Chronicle
February 19, 2002

IF OUR post-election governance problem is contributing to heightening social tension and deepening apprehension about the negative economic impact, then there seems to be an inclination to perpetuate, as a matter of policy, the political divisions in Guyana.

In that member state of the Caribbean Community with much in common with Trinidad and Tobago in terms of demographic structure, ethnic/political divisions and cultural diversity, there is an annual farce of a parallel flag-hoisting ceremony by the main Opposition People's National Congress to mark the anniversary of the country's republican status.

Guyana became a constitutional republic on February 23, 1970, under its first Executive President, Forbes Burnham, who enjoyed enormous powers under a subsequent revised Constitution resulting from a highly controversial referendum.

The Mashramani Festival that has evolved as Guyana's version of a carnival was celebrated by all sections of the multi-ethnic society, leading to the official flag-raising ceremony to mark the annual anniversary.

The then Opposition People's Progressive Party, led by the now late Cheddi Jagan, never made the official ceremony an issue of dispute, even though there were sharp differences over lack of electoral democracy and the governance of the country.

However, with the death of both Burnham and Jagan within 12 years of each other, there was to be a significant change - for the worse.

It followed, with particular emphasis, the outcome of the 1997 general election that the PNC, under the leadership of Burnham's successor, Desmond Hoyte, lost for the second time with the restoration of electoral democracy in October 1992, after 28 years of successive PNC governments.

That election had sparked widespread controversy with the PNC spearheading street demonstrations, some of them ending in violence and aggravating racial divisions.

But the PNC chose to make it a habit since 1997 to do its own thing with a parallel flag-raising ceremony and also break ranks in the final phase of the parade of bands.

The PPP/Civic Government had shifted the traditional flag-raising ceremony from the National Park on the night of February 22 to Parliament Square on the morning of the actual date of the republic anniversary, February 23, with the President delivering the main address.

The PNC boycotts the official flag-raising ceremony, attended by the diplomatic corps and representatives of all sections of the society, in preference for its strictly party and partisan affair at what is known as "Square of the Revolution" (what revolution?) in Georgetown, with the party's leader being the main speaker.

What this parallel event succeeds in doing is to keep alive the divisions that can be exploited for narrow political objectives.

In no other Caricom state does this political farce take place by an Opposition party.

It was felt that after President Bharrat Jagdeo and PNC leader Hoyte agreed to meet on a regular basis and have in place bipartisan committees to resolve differences, there would have been a change of heart by the PNC with its participation in the official flag-raising ceremony.

If it is not an attempt to perpetuate divisions in the society, or to seek to embarrass the Government, what reasonable explanation could there be for the PNC boycotting the official flag-raising ceremony?

It smacks of political pettiness and immaturity. It is to be hoped the PNC will engage in a critical review of its position and encourage national support for the official flag-raising ceremony, for which the party's event can be no substitute.
(Rrprinted from yesterday's Trinidad Guardian)