The Alliance for Change (AFC), the junior partner to A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) in the alliance, APNU+AFC, which formed the government of Guyana from 2015 to 2020 and which now forms the Opposition, has hinted at a press conference on Friday last, reported in SN yesterday, that it will not renew the Cummingsburg Accord (Accord), its secret agreement with APNU, which comes to an end in December.
The Accord establishes the basis of the relationship between APNU and AFC in government. It was initially entered into in 2015 and its main provisions entitled it to 40 percent of the seats of in the National Assembly, of ministerial positions and to the prime ministership. The revised Accord was signed in 2019, in preparation for the 2020 elections. Its terms were never published but it was reported that under it the AFC was entitled to 30 percent of the seats in the National Assembly, of ministerial positions and that Khemraj Ramjattan was the designated prime minister.
It was revealed by Mr. Freddie Kissoon that the reason for the secrecy of the Accord was that it contained a provision to the effect that the Prime Minister in an APNU+AFC government would not succeed to the presidency if the position became vacant. The secrecy of the Accord in an open, democratic, political system is an act of audacious contempt towards AFC’s members and the Guyanese people. However, it did not appear to have cost the coalition any votes, although it lost the 2020 elections for other reasons.
Since the Accord is the instrument that underlines the relationship between the parties, and there is a single APNU+AFC’s List containing the names of both APNU and AFC members, it was assumed that the Accord would be renewed at the end of its life, or some other agreement would regulate the relations between the parties. But in its press conference, the AFC indicated that it would seek out “new coalitions.” Several questions immediately arise: Will these “new coalitions” be sought out while the APNU+AFC coalition subsists? Would conflicts not arise if the AFC’s new coalition partner(s) is not enamoured of APNU? If the AFC succeeds in establishing a coalition with another political party, would that other political party be expected to have an indirect relationship with APNU or be ensnared into such a relationship? Or will the AFC establish an independent profile in the National Assembly, while sharing a List with APNU? If this happens, how will the new relationship between the AFC and APNU actually unfold? Or does “new coalitions” merely mean “new political friends?” Does the AFC intend to dump APNU at some point? There are only a few of the many baffling imponderables in the AFC’s new approach.
APNU and the AFC has already had turmoil in its relationship, particularly in 2018 at the local government elections. As a result of the failure to arrive at an agreement as to the distribution of seats, the parties went to the elections independently. Both APNU and AFC lost. It won 4 percent of the votes with the PPP winning 61 percent.
According to the report in SN yesterday, the seventh National Conference of the AFC held on June 11 decided that the party should, as stated by Chair of the AFC, Ms. Cathy Hughes, “secure a firm agreement and structure for it to have a greater influence on policy positions and political actions within the alliance while maintaining its independence, rebranding and regaining its identity.” The conclusion from this statement is that the AFC wants to end the Accord, but replace it with a “firm agreement” to strengthen its relations with APNU, while at the same time to seek out other alliances. Does the AFC not remember Burnham’s repetition of the well-known quip to the effect that if you seek to ride two (jack)asses at the same time you are likely to fall on your own?
The AFC had an opportunity to play a far more important role in Guyana’s history than it actually did. In 2011 it was in a position to determine the future course of Guyana by establishing itself as the arbiter of government policy. It held the political cards – the balance of power in the National Assembly. Policies relating to economic development, transparency and accountability in governance, constitutional reform and others were all open to being influenced or initiated in return for its selective support for specific policies of the minority PPP government. Instead, it followed a different trajectory. It joined with APNU in rejecting everything that was presented by the PPP in the National Assembly, leading inevitably to the minority government’s demise in 2015.
Historical precedent was available for the AFC to contemplate. The United Force (UF) joined the PNC in a coalition government in 1964 and became ‘dead meat,’ even though prior to the 1968 elections, it criticized the efforts at rigging of those elections. Mr. Ramjattan’s prediction of the AFC becoming ‘dead meat’ if it joined APNU in government has not yet materialized, except politically for Moses Nagamootoo. That fate of the AFC is on the horizon, or even closer. Its fullthroated support for the attempted rigging of the 2020 elections will win it no friends.