Whenever their entrenched differences permit it and the two major parties find a way out of the current morass and an opportunity to reach out to each other they will face the challenging task of establishing trust between them and between their constituencies.
The last six months in the country’s turbulent history have been defined by two distinct phenomena which have undoubtedly fed off of each other even if their origins were different: the explosion in crime and the collapse of dialogue between President Jagdeo and Mr Hoyte. The escape of the notorious five was followed by the breakdown in talks and our recent past has demonstrated vividly the nurturing relationship between political instability and crime.
Since the stalemated talks, a lot of regrettable and aggressive rhetoric has flowed between the two leaders and their parties. More importantly, the two leaders disagree comprehensively as to why the talks broke down. President Jagdeo was convinced that the dialogue was headed somewhere while Mr Hoyte differed strongly. Between the two parties, mere words are enough these days to send both into a frenzy of reprobation and hardening of positions. Witness the exchanges between the two sides over the healthy proposal by the PNC/R for high-level dialogue on the crime situation.
Between their constituencies, the situation is no better. The supporters of the governing party are hopping mad that traditional PNC/R strongholds like Buxton have become lawless enclaves from which murderous gangs operate with impunity and protection. On the face of it notorious escapee Andrew Douglas was culpable for the murder of a prison officer, the serious wounding of another and numerous crimes since February 23 based on eyewitness testimony. Yet, at his funeral, Buxtonians and others who attended seemed unconcerned by these important details and groundless adulation followed together with the customary circulation of handbills dishonestly describing him as a `freedom fighter’. How can Buxton tolerate this? This community has now emerged as a haven and recruiting school for criminals.
Further, the supporters of the ruling party feel that the PNC/R has just stood aside and allowed Buxton to become a zone of criminality without making a single effort to reverse the situation. Moreover, they believe that the PNC/R is capitalising on the crime-inspired anarchy that prevails for political gains.
There is nothing wrong with the PNC/R supporting protests by Buxtonians over marginalisation and discrimination whether real or perceived. But there is something quite wrong with allowing a key constituency to metamorphose into a crime-ridden bastion threatening nearby communities and law and order and not do anything about it. For the PNC/R to sound credibly concerned over the crime situation it has to go to ground in Buxton and bring its influence to bear. If it fails then it must throw its support wholeheartedly behind the government’s efforts to restore order. It is not enough - as its executives did at a press conference last Thursday - to lay all of the responsibility at the feet of the government. This constituency voted solidly for the PNC/R and the party is perhaps the only mass-based organisation with significant influence in Buxton today.
For their part, supporters of the PNC/R believe that the constituency of the governing party shows no appreciation for their economic plight, shields white-collar criminals and drug lords and ignores real problems like extra-judicial killings and corruption.
Whatever options are fashioned out of this crucible of political distrust and violence will be sorely tested and will be doomed to failure unless the two sides can believe the words of each other and rely on this covenant.
A start must be made somewhere and there is a lot of unfinished legislative and constitutional business. The constitutional commissions, the parliamentary management committee, the sectoral committees and the various other promises out of the dialogue remain unfulfilled. Unless these can be put to the test of trust it makes little sense going further and risking even more chronic political and societal stress. Supporters of neither side will be happy unless they believe that the other side is sincere so there must be tangible expressions of cooperation between the two sides and evidence that they are living up to their word. Confidence building measures must be put in place.
This is where it is important to populate the political space with groups other than the PPP/C and the PNC/R. The two leading parties have a destructive chemistry. They need a buffer between them to catalyse a healthy reaction that can be controlled and from which positive energy can be harnessed. It is time for the other parliamentary parties and civil society groups to be made partners in the dialogue that will hopefully restart soon. That is the only reasonable option and will allow the cultivating of trust between the two sides on the knotty issues such as the composition of the sectoral committees and addressing the deepest concerns of citizens across the political spectrum.
When the President returns from Johannesburg, unravelling this tangle of suspicion and mistrust must be dealt with immediately.