The basis of Guyana’s political outcomes has remained static for many decades. With deeply entrenched ethnic voting patterns, Indian Guyanese, originally constituting close to 50 percent of the population, would always have the upper hand. The two elections in 1957 and 1961 demonstrated to the African Guyanese political leadership that if it wanted political power, it would have to obtain it in coalition and later sustain it through electoral malpractice. And so, after the 1964 elections, in which the PPP obtained the plurality, the PNC and UF, together holding a majority of the seats in the parliament, formed a coalition government. The coalition ended in 1968 and the PNC resorted to electoral malpractice thereafter to maintain political power.
In 1957 the PNC merged with the United Democratic Party (UDP). The UDP, led by John Carter, a prominent lawyer of Mixed heritage, represented the interests of the Mixed and African middle and professional classes. At some point between 1973 and 1985 the support of these groups for the PNC started to wane. But it mostly returned with the election of Desmond Hoyte as President. These groups showed their electoral clout in 2006 when a section of it abandoned the PNC and supported the AFC. Many of these votes went back to the PNC after the election of David Granger as its leader, but it is believed that a significant number remained with the AFC. At the 2011 elections the APNU obtained 40.81 percent of the votes, much in line with its record in free and fair elections, and the AFC got 10.32. The AFC benefited from the loss of between 5 to 7 percent of its votes from previous elections. It obtained 48.60 percent.
Two factors are important here. The PPP would have been due for a downward adjustment of its vote due to the declining Indian population (43.4 percent in 2002 to 39.8 in 2012). But intensive work from 1968 onwards won over Amerindian support. Its increasing size (10.5 percent in 2012 and ‘significantly growing’) may have accounted for the stability of the PPP’s majority support. The PNC would have been due for increasingly better performances at the elections because of the expanding size of the Mixed Heritage Guyanese (from 16.7 in 2002 to 20.9 in 2012), notwithstanding the marginal reduction of the African population (from 30.2 in 2002 to 29.2 in 2012). This did not happen. Apart from 2006 when the AFC took a large slice of the PNC’s support, its performance at elections has remained largely consistent within the 40-42 percent range, indicating perhaps that it is not benefiting from the increasing size of the Mixed Heritage population.
The three elections between 2006 to 2015 show that a significant enough section of the Mixed, Indian and African electorate are deeply concerned about the ethno-political direction of our politics. Many believe that ‘race politics’ is hindering and will continue to hinder Guyana’s development. They see that Guyana is on the cusp of an era of growth and prosperity, which can be so easily dissipated or derailed, as in most oil producing countries. To confront this situation, they are prepared to abandon their traditional parties and support a third party which promotes constitutional reform to ensure a winner does not take all system, a system of laws and policies that would eliminate corruption and ensure transparency and accountability and a social and infrastructure development programme that will benefit all Guyana.
I have written extensively in these columns about the failure of third parties in Guyana and generally around the world. Why do I believe that a third party can make an impact now, after the spectacular failure of the AFC to influence the APNU? Many Mixed, African and Indian members of the middle, professional and business class also now understand that for as long as Guyana remains a multi-ethnic society, ethnic parties will continue to exist, to seek to dominate and will not change unless forced to. They also realise that the ethnic groups will not abandon their parties and generally will not resist their policies of ethnic preferences and domination. This, as we all know, inevitably gives rise to corruption, no matter who is in power.
For a third party to succeed it must credibly assure the electorate that, if it is elected, it will immediately establish a national unity government until constitutional reform institutionalizes a permanent arrangement. It must also credibly assure the electorate that if it is not elected, but obtains enough across the board support to hold the balance of power, it will never ever, never ever, join a coalition government with either party, but will seek to encourage the formation of a national unity government between the two major parties. If unsuccessful, it will support that party that supports its agenda for reform. It would stand ready to withdraw that support if the government fails to honour its commitments and have new elections.