If the PPP/C is returned with only a plurality of the votes at the upcoming elections as in 2011, it could adopt the sensible course of inviting the opposition to join it in a coalition government. The PPP would be mindful of recent, salutary, experience in Sweden. The centre-left, minority, government of two months was forced to resign in early December because it did not get the support of the far right, Sweden Democrats, who wanted immigration to be further restricted. Also, a further gridlock is unlikely to be sustainable for more than a year this time around.
The PPP would, of course, like any other party obtaining a plurality, like to be in the majority in a coalition and may invite only one of the opposition parties to join a coalition. The obvious consideration in opposition strategy, if an invitation is forthcoming, is to ensure that it will have the same majority as it would have had in opposition. To avoid being in a minority, the opposition party may well insist that the other opposition party, its colleague over the past three years, be also invited to join which would give the opposition a majority in the coalition. A breakdown in the negotiations at this early stage may well lead to the Swedish Option.
Having faced gridlock and frustration over the past three years, the political parties might all be looking to a new approach, difficult as this may be for the PPP. But the reality of an even more truncated lifespan for another minority government might be the incentive to propel the PPP in a different direction this time around. The PPP is then likely to have an opposition that may insist on both of them being part of the coalition arrangement.
Even with agreed policies, a party in a minority status in a coalition could succumb to the dynamics or blandishments of office, and agree or be forced to agree to the dilution or even derailment of its policies on constitutional reform, corruption, economic and social policy and good governance. The position of the Liberals in the UK ought to provide a reference point. The Liberals, in a minority, have been unable to promote their agenda, even some of those that were agreed upon, such as electoral reform, and have been unable to resist the more egregious Conservative policies against the poor. As a result the Liberals’ support is likely to substantially decline at the elections in May. The opposition will obviously want to avoid a similar fate in Guyana by insisting on full inclusion and a rigid adherence to defined policies.
Minority governments by nature have a short lifespan. Coalition governments are notoriously unstable. The main reasons are disputes over policy or where a member sees an advantage in early elections. For this reason the opposition parties ought to have, before the elections, the basic policies that they would want all parties joining a coalition government to be committed to. This would require creative negotiation and compromises. Statesmanship, such as has never been seen before in Guyana, will have to be deployed.
The most important would be economic policies. Issues that have attracted discussion include the failure to diversify the economy from reliance on only primary products without added value. There is little emphasis on the encouragement of manufacturing and services. Insufficient resources are directed to the building of the tourist industry which has much potential. In relation to infrastructure focus has shifted to the Amaila Hydropower Project and away from the road to Lethem and a deep water harbor. Both would be important.
Anti-corruption measures form a major plank of opposition demands. But apart from the establishment of the Public Procurement Commission, no policies have been elaborated as to how the widespread corruption, including petty corruption, is going to be reduced. Corruption includes massive tax evasion by large sectors of the population and large swaths of economic activity. Expanding the tax base is vital but little effort is made in this direction. The opposition also needs to consider how it will increase salaries, spend more on reducing crime, on reducing poverty and in particular extreme poverty while at the same time reducing VAT and other taxes. Social policy in relation crime including domestic violence, poverty, corruption, education, housing for the poor must be areas of agreement.
The unfinished work of constitutional reform would be a major condition for agreement to a coalition. There has been much debate recently on the issue and many proposals have been made. The PPP, through its General Secretary, Clement Rohee, has rejected calls for constitutional reform, no doubt expecting that the PPP will be returned with an absolute majority. If invited into a coalition, the opposition will certainly feel it necessary to secure a commitment from the PPP/C for the broad outlines of constitutional reform during its term of office before committing to joining the government.
Presumably the opposition will demand the position of Prime Minister who may insist that he (or she), rather than the HPS, actually functions as deputy to the President as well Leader of Government Business in the National Assembly.