All agree that there is a democracy deficit when an Opposition is unable or unwilling to hold a government to account. In 1992, APNU, then known as the PNC, was voted out of office and remained in opposition for 23 years. After 19 years, circumstances began to change when two opposition parties, APNU and the AFC, obtained a majority in the 2011 elections. As expected, joining in a coalition, the two parties sustained a majority in 2015 and formed the Government. Instead of sober economic policies to grow the economy and constitutional reform to further democratize the governance system, the APNU-AFC Government raised taxes and went on a spending spree. It failed to keep its promise to reform the constitution. Instead, it reached down into its history for guidance and attempted to rig the elections of 2020.
When Aubrey Norton attained the leadership of APNU, he had the opportunity to rebuild APNU, establish the framework for two things, namely, provide an effective opposition to the PPP/C Government and seek to rebuild APNU and its coalition to take political office once again. Many placed high hopes in Norton because he was an experienced leader and, in the past, he supported a reformed constitutional system of governance that would eliminate ethno-political dominance. Unfortunately, that rebuilding has not taken place and the bold proposals for constitutional reform proposed in APNU’s manifesto for the 2020 elections, which were abandoned, have not been revived. Instead APNU has been beset by internal problems. The treasurer resigned. The General Secretary resigned. More recently, there are complaints that the appropriate party body has not played its democratic role selecting members for local authority bodies. The perception, reinforced by the local government elections, is that APNU is struggling for traction.
Leading up to 1992, the PPP saw the need for the establishment of a civic component after coalition proposals with the WPA, DLM and other parties did not gain currency in the Patriotic Coalition for Democracy. The PPP faced the issue of having to put up as broad a front as possible to broaden its image in ethnic and political terms. The other compelling requirement was to win the elections. It won and it has since turned out that the PPP commands and would command an electoral majority except when, as in 2011 and 2015, it lost its way. APNU’s support among the electorate, apart from its alliance with the AFC, does not give it a majority like the PPP. It appears to the outside observer, therefore, that it is suicidal for APNU to allow its coalition with the AFC to disintegrate, notwithstanding AFC’s diminished support.
I have no doubt that there would have been internal pressures in APNU to reduce the numbers of AFC’s MPs within the coalition. There was also a demand within the PPP during the post 1992 period to reduce the civic component, which was resisted by the majority in the PPP leadership. But the PPP was winning elections. APNU is not. One would have expected that instead of heeding similar calls within APNU, if they were being made, APNU would have strengthened its relations with the AFC. It has instead allowed the relationship to be dismantled and will pay the price.
APNU has all but abandoned any attempt at advancing policy initiatives. There is an urgent need for an enforceable code of ethics for public officials, including members of the Government. The APNU-AFC Government had such a code. But it was a state secret. What about APNU revising the code, publishing it and building a campaign around it. APNU proposed constitutional reform in the governance structure in its 2020 manifesto which it did not implement. What about revising these proposals, publishing them and building a campaign around them for constitutional reform. APNU is investing heavily in relation to the issue of ethnic discrimination. What about adopting Ravi Dev’s old proposal for an ethnic impact statement when policies or projects are proposed. These are some ideas. They may not be APNU’s. But papers on APNU’s ideas can be published and demands made for them to be discussed at the sectoral committees of the National Assembly, building campaigns around policies. But all the Guyanese public gets are futile demands in the National Assembly.
The one constant of APNU is ethnic discrimination by the Government against African Guyanese. It has gone so far that some organisations are claiming that apartheid is emerging in Guyana. That, I believe, is the reason why the Government broke relations with IDPADA-G, which jumped on the apartheid bandwagon despite substantial funding from the Government to promote the UN’s International Decade for People of African Descent. In Guyana where about 90 percent of the security forces, beyond 50 percent of public servants, teachers, nurses and professionals in many fields, are African, no such accusation will gain currency, no matter how shrill the noise. The absence of Africans in business to take advantage of contracts and procurement has an historical basis, including the history between 1970 and 1992, that advocates for Africans are aware of but dishonestly ignore. APNU has two years to up its game and build coalitions. Unless it does, it’s looking at a long, dry, spell.