Since the public invitation by Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo to the PPP for talks leading to a government of national unity, varying opinions have been expressed by several commentators on the issue, including Henry Jeffrey (SN 2015-09-16), Tacuma Ogunsaye (KN 2015-09-19) and Anil Nandlall (SN-09-19). Jeffrey called for clarity of intention from the coalition, Ogunsaye expressed the view that the PPP believes it will win the next elections and that Jagdeo sees himself as president for those reason will not agree to a national unity government. Nandlall called for a ‘peaceful atmosphere’ to be first established before any talks can take place.
There were times in the history of the PPP when the national interest took precedence. In August 1975 the PPP offered ‘critical support’ to the PNC government. At that time the PPP perceived that government was moving in an ‘anti-imperialist’ direction. It had embarked on a policy of nationalization of foreign owned industries and was perceived to come or likely to come under attack by ‘imperialism.’ In these circumstances the PPP felt compelled to protect what it saw were advances made by the PNC government by showing solidarity.
The decision by the PPP was internally controversial and very unpopular among a section of its supporters. Only two years before the worst rigging of elections had taken place. The PNC took a two-third majority and in the process two PPP supporters were shot, thrown in the back of a military vehicle, while the vehicle spent hours collecting ballot boxes, and in which they bled to death. Immediately after the elections the PPP had decided on a policy of non-cooperation and civil resistance. Hundreds of PPP supporters were being continually harassed by the police, the magistracy and the judiciary. Thus the PPP’s change in policy took place at a time when the PPP and democracy were under serious attacks.
As a result of the change in policy, engagements between the PPP and PNC took place for the first time since the early 1960s, led by Burnham and Jagan respectively. At the final meeting in December, 1976, Burnham demanded the withdrawal of an editorial in the Mirror in November, 1976, entitled “Guns instead of Bread,” which criticized a mini budget which had just been presented in October. The PPP refused and the talks broke down. The PPP had been hoping that a ‘political solution,’ which it had been advocating, would have been on the agenda for the talks.
Undaunted, in August, 1977, the PPP launched its version of a ‘political solution’ in the form of the National Patriotic Front. The proposal envisaged that the executive President would be chosen by the party which obtained the second largest number of votes in free and fair elections and the prime minister, with defined powers, would be nominated by the party obtaining the second largest amount of votes. The PPP was effectively conceding the top post of executive president to the PNC. The PNC rejected the proposals, which had been approved by the PPP’s Central Committee only after intense and divisive debates.
Even though throughout the 1970s to the 1990s the PPP continued to call for a political solution, which it eventually defined by the National Patriotic Front, it lost interest in a political solution after 1997. However, the issue was still politically resonant and on February 11, 2003, it announced a policy of ‘building trust and confidence’ leading to ‘greater inclusive governance.’ It hinted at potential talks leading to a national unity government after ‘trust and confidence’ is established between the political parties. But it did not follow through and had no intention of doing so.
The PPP, through Mr. Anil Nandlall, has now once again invoked a discredited formula akin to ‘trust and confidence,’ now designated as a ‘conducive atmosphere’ or a ‘peaceful atmosphere’ as a pre-requisite for discussions. According to Nandlall: “Mass dismissals of public officers and contractual workers of the state in a manner that reeks of political and ethnic discrimination, political witch-hunting and executive arrogance will not create such an atmosphere but indeed will achieve the reverse.” The message clearly is that for the PPP, a political solution for Guyana, to which Cheddi Jagan had devoted his life, for which he sought unconditional negotiations and in which he engaged in 1985 at the invitation of the PNC, is no longer part of its agenda.
The PPP is intent on throwing obstacles in the path of national unity in order to ensure its own ethno-political dominance. As Ogunsaye says, the PPP believes that it can win the next elections just as it believed it could have won the last two. In order to defeat this objective, the government needs to define and coordinate its approach. The government may consider it necessary to make a formal approach to the Leader of the Opposition, broadly defining its ideas on national unity, without taking public positions from which it would be reluctant to climb down. It needs to recognize that the Prime Minister can lead the process without being physically present at the talks. The PPP must not be handed on a platter the opportunity to cause the failure of a drive for national unity.
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