During the 2020 events surrounding the attempts by APNU+AFC to rig the elections, the idea arose that the dominant issue was not elections but a political solution. It was suggested that efforts ought to be concentrated on persuading the APNU+AFC Government and the PPP to resolve the electoral crisis by establishing a power sharing government. In the absence of a formula determined by a popular mandate, it was not known at that time in what proportion each party, and maybe others, would share the government. That alone would have been a deal breaker. But a more fundamental issue arose. No one that I knew, including many who were not PPP supporters, were willing to allow a dictatorship based on fraudulent elections to once again emerge to haunt Guyana, perhaps for decades to come. The sentiment appeared to be: democracy first, shared government after.
No rational Guyanese can deny that our political system is in need of reform. The fundamental object of that reform needs to be the mitigation of the overwhelming drive that underlines Guyana’s politics – the competition for ethno-political dominance. Those who believe that in the near term it would be possible to win ‘cross over’ votes from the other ethnic group to achieve or sustain a significant enough majority to drive the struggle for ethno-political dominance underground, are living in a fool’s paradise. Guyana has to accept the reality that our two major ethnic groups, with their voting allies will, for the indeterminate future, feel more comfortable voting for the party that provides them with ethnic security. Since this political characteristic has been at the root of Guyana’s historic political instability, the solution is known – devise a system where each group feels secure. Both political parties have wrestled with this problem in the past, the PPP far more than the PNC/APNU. But the conditions have never materialized for all the elements to come together.
The loss of office of the APNU+AFC Government without any achievement of consequence, together with the fallout over the attempt to rig the elections, have resulted in a sweeping change of leadership of the PNCR. Notwithstanding the ditching by the APNU+AFC Government of its manifesto promise for shared governance, it would have been a welcome development for the new leadership of the PNCR to revive its manifesto promise and the objective of constitutional reform leading to shared governance. After all, Mr. Norton vocally supported shared government in the mid to late 1990s, which Desmond Hoyte adopted in 2002. However, the trajectory of the new leadership is completely different.
Constitutional reform leading to shared governance has been ditched for a vague, amorphous and undefined, notion of ‘inclusive governance’ which is already provided for in the constitution, but which has not been implemented. The failure by APNU and the AFC to even draw attention to the non-implementation of the elements of inclusive governance in the constitution suggests that the call for inclusive governance is a hollow tactic to disguise a more aggressive posture. The abandonment of shared governance has resulted in it being taken off the political agenda. Racism, discrimination and marginalization have taken its place based on accusations of little substance such as razing the houses of Mocha squatters who were offered free houses and compensation, dismantling of a building occupied by the Lethem PNCR and awarding of contracts to Indians without any evidence of the existence of African applicants or the improper rejection of their bids.
Aubrey Norton’s embrace of the sentiment but not the language of Tacuma Ogunsaye’s battle cry to Africans, whose only target could be Indians, invoking the help of ‘brothers and sisters’ in the armed forces, while at the same time rejecting discourse with the Government, is a new low in Guyana’s politics, specifically designed to create ethnic and political violence. The situation has degenerated rapidly. Between 2020 and the present, Guyana has experienced the violence in West Berbice, Mon Repos and Buxton. The fact that Norton chose to mount the platform at Buxton with Ogunsaye, a tried and tested promoter of the ‘liberation’ of African Guyanese by violence, and endorses his sentiments, is indicative of the renewed trajectory of APNU to re-emphasize and reintroduce its policy of political violence directed against Indian Guyanese.
It was tried in the 1990s, vocally supported by Desmond Hoyte and Aubrey Norton, tried again by criminal terrorists in the 2000s, then loudly hailed by Ogunsaye. ‘Ethnic cleansing’ of the 1990s has given way to ‘emerging apartheid’ of 2023. The dead-end politics of hate has overtaken APNU/PNCR. The tragedy is that precious time is being wasted in failing to propagate the only known way that ethnic security can be obtained and sustained, namely, by a political solution. This will be no walk in the park. It will be a tough campaign of long duration. But democratic politics is a tough and tedious business, not for the faint-hearted, and no change in national direction will come on a platter. The effort to suppress the politics of ethnic dominance before it took root started with the PPP in 1950. It failed. Sporadic efforts since then to smother this political monster have not succeeded. A path that demonizes political opponents, supports ringing appeals to battle and eschews the democratic path will not succeed.