This month the PPP celebrates the life of Cheddi Jagan. In preparing to face the electorate, the party will be today invoking his legacy at Babu John. The electioneering mode that will dominate the proceedings and atmosphere at Babu John will seek to build enthusiasm and momentum, which are critical in the electoral battleground of the Corentyne, whose voting may decisively influence the outcome of the elections, as it did in 2011. To recover the votes it lost in 2011 in the Corentyne, the public can expect a colourful rally with robust verbal assaults on the APNU+AFC alliance.
The PPP could have been facing the electorate in completely different circumstances. Displaying a woeful lack of foresight, it sat back and allowed its opponents to unite, rather than keeping them competing for influence, as they had been doing after the elections. The exposure of the Government/Granger Linden electricity deal by the AFC in 2012 comes to mind. Now, the APNU+AFC political alliance threatens the PPP’s hold on political power.
Had it established an early coalition government with APNU after being reduced to a plurality in 2011, the electorate would have been asked at these elections to return a PPP+APNU, not an APNU+AFC, alliance to office. We could have been in a transformative era in Guyana’s politics, in accordance with Cheddi Jagan’s legacy. It is the AFC which is now claiming this mantle. True or not, this claim will resonate during the campaign aided by an APNU+AFC campaign strategy of offering change, reform and renewal, always an attractive strategy when facing an incumbent in office for 22 years.
Both the government and the electorate have inevitably succumbed to the fatigue generated by incumbency. Both have become jaded and have lost enthusiasm. The government has lost the capacity to innovate. The electorate has grown tired of the same promises and the same faces. The only occasions when incumbency works is where the economy is subject to sustained economic transformation as in Singapore and Malaysia, to name only two countries. In Barbados the economy was faltering in the late 1980s. In Owen Arthur’s three terms it recovered and significant transformations took place. Yet the electorate voted Owen Arthur and his BLP out of office after three terms. Arthur tried a comeback but failed.
The PPP has been on the back foot and reactive since it lost its majority in 2011. The APNU+AFC alliance and its confident, upbeat launching last Wednesday in an electric atmosphere will keep the PPP on the back foot, if their campaign is supplemented with a credible programme. The only response of the PPP is its record from 1992 to the present and of the PNC’s past. Advances made since 1992 no longer inspire because conditions before 1992 are distant memories. The PPP does not refer to its record from 2011 to the present during which time, according to the just published LAPOP poll, there has been a sharp decline in optimism about politics and the economy.
As a tribute to Cheddi Jagan, and to capture the imagination of and energize the electorate, the PPP should consider reviving his legacy by proposing the political solution that he struggled for relentlessly and unceasingly during the 1970s and 1980s and to some extent before. If a political solution had ever been achieved, it would have required constitutional reform. The political solution had always been a pre-requisite to the constitutional solution.
In the constitutional reform process of 1999–2000 the two dominant issues were the powers of the presidency and constitutional engineering to force a coalition government after elections. The obstacle at that time was that the main political parties were not keen on either. There had been no prior political solution on which to construct a constitutional solution. At that time the PPP was in government and had lost the appetite for a political solution. Desmond Hoyte was harbouring hopes that he and the then PNC would soon return to office. Neither party was interested in substantial changes.
There is now a developing consensus outside the PPP that our political system ought to be reformed in a way that would require cross-ethnic voting or at least mitigate the outcomes of ethnic voting patterns. It is now being felt that for our political system to be better grounded and for our ethnic groups to be better served by it, there must be a system that requires inter-party negotiation and a realistic possibility of governments being periodically removed. Or if there is a coalition between the main parties, there must be a guaranteed system of political oversight by a dedicated opposition or independent groups. Politics must no longer be a zero sum game of ethnic victory and ethnic defeat.
Several ideas of how such a system can be formulated have been floated and there are many that will be unveiled once a real debate commences. The drive for constitutional reform is going to gain momentum in the coming period. It can no longer be contained and the PPP, instead of the wholly false, ridiculous and reactionary argument that Guyana has the best constitution in the region, would do well to embrace constitutional reform now, even in principle if not in detail, not only for its own sake but to give life and a positive spin to its elections campaign.