Another 24 years
July 26, 2002
For 24 years, from 1968 to 1992, the PNC ruled Guyana by rigging elections.
Those Guyanese protesting at this unlawful seizure of power by fraud found themselves unaccompanied by the members of the security services at all levels (who voted PNC by choice, for ethnic reasons), the ‘democratic’ Western countries, whose obsession with the Soviet ‘threat’ made them deaf to complaints from Guyana about the political marginalisation of the PPP, and the Soviet bloc countries, including Cuba, who had no moral basis for protesting and, in any event, saw Burnham as essentially ‘progressive’ in relation to their international interests.
After the collapse of the Soviet empire the external situation changed. The USA rediscovered an interest in hemispheric democracy and their allies followed suit. The PPP leadership became ‘acceptable’ to them and the danger of Western disapproval and even sanctions loomed over the PNC as it approached the 1992 elections.
The change in the external environment made it unnecessary for the PPP to make any further concessions to the attempt to construct a coalition of opposition parties and civic organisations to oppose PNC rule, and in 1992 the party (with its own ‘civic’ wing) won the first reasonably honest elections to be held in Guyana since 1964.
Understandably, the PPP may feel that demands for a new system of governance are hypocritical - only being made because the PNC cannot achieve power through honest elections. The PPP may well say - “We were patient throughout the stolen 24 years of rigging, let the PNC exercise similar restraint.”
This begs the question of what happens to Guyana in the meantime. It also ignores certain practical differences between the position of the PNC during “its” 24 years and that of the PPP today.
The PPP never had, and does not now have a politically sympathetic army and police force. Their loyalty must therefore be to the constitution, not to the PPP or its leaders. The attempt by the Presidential Secretariat to create a loyal core of armed enforcers within the force has been counter productive. Any serious public concern about the fairness of a constitution that presently ensures that 42% = 0 can only undermine the one legitimate factor on which the loyalty of the security forces depends. For the 42% includes their votes.
Externally, the perceived soviet ‘threat’ has imploded and no longer exists. The support of the western governments for the present political dispensation in Guyana therefore rests on different premises - support for their conception of democracy. But democracy, even in the west alone, has many forms, and the increasingly multi-ethnic societies in western countries have brought to the fore more complex conceptions of what democracy is all about - such as the rights of minorities to participate in the decision making process. As one American civil rights writer noted: “While pluralist theories of democracy contemplate minority losses, they do not envision a minority that always loses.”
If the security forces at the government’s disposal are unable to control an increasingly unstable situation, the government will have to turn to its Caricom partners and foreign donors for assistance - in a region in which the richest Caricom partner - Trinidad - is also confronting ( in different circumstances) the problems posed by the interaction of ethnic politics and an inherited majoritarian political system.
In such a situation any governing party in Guyana that reaches for help may find that though available, it comes at a price. No one is going to want to support a permanent presence in Guyana to monitor an increasingly fractious and fragile system. Round table talks to devise a better system - Herdmanston Part 2 - may be imposed from outside, in a situation in which the ruling party is dependent on external friends who want to find a way out.
Isn’t it better to summon up our own resources, here and in the diaspora, to confront, discuss and try to resolve the fundamental problem that has faced us ever since the PPP split nearly half a century ago? How do we find a system that meets the need of all of us to participate in the management and decision making processes of the state?
If we didn’t feel we needed to do this, why did we put the participatory Article 13 in the constitution? For ‘participate’ means (concise Oxford) “have share in”.