The electoral victory of the People’s Partnership in Trinidad and Tobago, the subject of much recent comment in our press, has highlighted the issue of alliance politics which was pioneered by the PPP in Guyana.
The success of the People’s Partnership was based on this creative alliance, decisive leadership and hard work. The failures of governance during the PNM’s terms of office, allegations of corruption, squandermania and arrogant behavior played an important role in diminishing support of the PNM. These factors facilitated a landslide victory for the People’s Partnership.
A different situation emerged in Surinam where post electoral alliance building is part of the political process because no political party can secure a majority of seats. Apart from the necessity of the governing coalition needing control of 51 percent of the seats to pass legislation, it needs the support of two-thirds of the National Assembly to elect a President. The Mega Combination, which gained the largest number of seats, is now engaged, at the time of writing, to secure the support of a majority of members to form the Government and two-thirds of the members to obtain the Presidency.
These developments have given urgency to the efforts of opposition forces in Guyana to create the ‘big tent’ with a consensus presidential candidate.
But the situation is completely different here. The objectives of the PPP, when formed in 1950, dictated an alliance between races and classes in order to achieve maximum mobilization and support. The ethnic part of that alliance was shattered in 1955 when the Burnham faction broke away from the PPP and eventually established the PNC. These objectives, together with an ideological commitment, have dictated an historical reliance by the PPP on alliance politics.
The PPP continued to champion alliance politics after 1955. It sought a modus vivendi with the PNC 1963, 1977 and 1985 in order to repair the political and ethnic division but without success.
From the time the PPP went into opposition in 1964 it was seeking to win additional support across the ethnic divide, establish alliances among the then opposition and civil society forces.
It started out with the Amerindian people. After years of harrowing effort, it obtained their political support. It worked with GADM (Guyana Anti Discrimination Movement) and established the broad based World Peace Council and other organizations. During the campaign against the referendum to change the constitution in 1977 the PPP played a key role in establishing the Citizens Committee comprising civil society groups and the CDD (Committee in Defence of Democracy) comprising political parties. These alliances were crucial in mobilizing support against the PNC, in weakening its appeal from 1980 and in delivering free and fair elections in 1992.
The establishment of the PCD (Patriotic Coalition for Democracy) in 1985, in which the PPP played a leading role, provided the forum for the opposition – the PPP, the WPA (Working People’s Alliance) and the DLM (Democratic Labour Movement) – and two smaller parties to carry out a united campaign for free and fair elections. It agreed to a programme and worked on post electoral unity.
The great democratic victory in 1992 was built on a foundation of alliance politics. When an alliance could not be created for the 1992 elections with its PCD partners, the PPP joined with GUARD and the PPP/CIVIC alliance was born.
The success of the PPP’s alliance politics inspired the PNC after the dismal failure of its confrontational policies between 1992 and 2001. The People’s National Congress became the People’s National Congress Reform when it embraced a group of non-members who were prominent in business. Shortly after the PNCR adopted a policy of shared governance, based on a political rather than a programmatic alliance.
The PPP’s policy of creating alliances has been vindicated and now accepted as the preferred method of political organization and activity. While its current Civic alliance has endured, it has sought to establish less formal alliances for specific programmes by consultation with NGO’s, the Amerindian community, the religious community and other groups.
This aspect of the alliance policy of the PPP, although not structured, together with the development policies which have delivered social services to the people of Guyana on a scale larger than at any time in the history of Guyana, has been largely responsible for the great successes of the PPP and its Government.
There is no doubt that the events in Trinidad and Tobago, Surinam and even as far away as the United Kingdom, where the Conservatives and the Liberals have formed a coalition government, will give additional impetus to opposition parties here to make another attempt to establish a ‘big tent’ alliance.
This would be a welcome development. The PPP led the way and Guyana, like all other countries, need competitive politics so that the people will get an opportunity to have a real choice between parties or alliances putting forward the best policies from which the electorate can choose. The people of Guyana are entitled to have before them, and the contesting political groups are obliged to advance, alternative policies which can be tested by discussion and debate so that the electorate can make, and be encouraged to make, a judgment at the elections based on policies rather than on other extraneous circumstances.