The spectacle displayed by the APNU+AFC in Parliament during last week signals the PNC’s return to the Opposition. Its loss of office in 1992 after 28 years was marked by ethnic violence, disruption of the National Assembly and vocal hostility therein to a PPP Government Minister of African Guyanese ancestry. As if history is repeating itself, the loss of office this time around was marked by a repeat of the identical type of events, after unlawfully holding office and then attempting to rig the elections. Trump-like, The PNC, perpetuates the myth that the then Opposition PPP, with no influence over the election machinery, somehow manufactured tens of thousands of fake votes.
Politics in Guyana is about ethnic dominance and the PNC receives its support mostly from African and mixed Guyanese who represent just about forty percent of the electorate. It cannot now, or in the near future, win elections honestly or without alliances that have substantive support. This has happened only twice in post-Independence history – in 1964 with the United Force and in 2015 with the Alliance for Change. In both cases the support of these small parties dwindled after one term of office leaving the PNC with minority support. It secured majorities by rigging elections. The PPP meanwhile won many election, all observed by foreigners since 1992, with no credible allegations of ever rigging elections.
Since 1992 the PNC and PPP have danced around each other occasionally but warily and largely unsuccessfully. But these moments were marked by an unspoken understanding that the hostility needed to be reduced and ways needed to be found to work together. During the height of the disturbances in 2001, Vibert Parvattan, a business executive and a former junior minister in the Hoyte Government, invited me to his home and asked me if the PPP would be prepared to meet the PNC. Known to our leaders, the late Deryck Bernard and I met at Parvattan’s home and came to some conclusions. The unrest, street violence and kidnapping of PPP elections workers ended. Shortly after, Desmond Hoyte made a public appeal, the first since the violence in 1992. Calm was restored and President Jagdeo was sworn in. He met with Desmond Hoyte and a number of committees comprising PPP and PNC members were appointed to study various issues and prepare reports. The committees met and reported but nothing came of this effort and it fizzled out.
Four significant events followed. 1. The new Parliament set about to implement the reforms of the Constitution Reform Commission Report which required sustained negotiations. 2. Desmond Hoyte came out in support of shared governance in 2002. 3. President Jagdeo announced a policy of building trust and confidence in 2003. 4. Desmond Hoyte passed and after the 2006 elections Robert Corbin renewed the process of dialogue started by Hoyte and Jagdeo but which had come to an end. That also ended unsuccessfully.
If the PNC returns to the period of 1992 to 2001, as it appears to want to do, it will once again face a dead end of fruitless opposition. What is there to gain for themselves and their supporters in a vastly and rapidly expanding oil economy if they remain in oposition? The PNC needs to change course and seek a role in governance and a substantial place at the table. It will not be at this time a majority role, but it will be adequate enough to protect its supporters. If not the future of the PNC lies in banging the Parliament table, crying race and promoting ethnic violence for the next twenty years. Is this the future it sees for itself?
It was the successful work of the Constitution Reform Commission 1999-2000, that gave an impetus to atmosphere and subsequent events of 2001 (post-election violence ceased) and later outlined above. Shared governance was not supported by the major parties but the Commission did the next best thing.
It recommended a constitutional framework for inclusive governance, namely, the creation of four additional parliamentary committees, a Parliament Management Committee of equal numbers of government and opposition. State commissions such as Ethnic Relations Commission, Indigenous Peoples’ Commission, Women and Gender Commission, Commission on the Rights of the Child and the Human Rights Commission, were recommended. Article 13 of the Constitution was recommended and passed which imposed the requirement for consultation on the government. Nothing remains to be done for inclusive governance, except providing staff, accommodation, funding and research capability for these commissions and committees to function. It’s the politicians who have been guilty of the starvation of the Commissions which has killed inclusive governance.
On electoral reform, no constitutional amendment for elections is necessary. Since 1966 the constitution has provided the option for a mixed proportional and first past system if Parliament so decides. There has been only a lame effort so far by the creation of 10 constituencies.
As regards shared governance, why is it not possible to provide in the constitution for an option for shared governance which, like the electoral system, does not bind the parties but which they can adopt if they wish. But I forgot! This suggestion must come from the people, not from someone sitting in an armchair like me.