July 28 2019
The leadership of the Alliance For Change (AFC), all by itself, has squandered the grand opportunity given it by the citizens of Guyana in 2015. The party’s descent from its formerly vaunted position as power broker in parliament was made pellucidly clear in the results of the last Local Government Elections (LGE). With the power, attraction and credibility of the AFC shattered, the party’s value to the Coalition as currently configured is not at all certain and the Coalition will need to attract credible citizens to its slate if it wants to secure electoral victory.
While I would urge that the coalition of parties that won the elections in 2015 remain united and contest the upcoming election, I believe that to give once again to the AFC the Prime Ministerial (PM) position and the Ministry of Agriculture would be a slap in the face to all who expected transformative leadership and more specifically, sugar workers. In relation to the transformative politics of the AFC, the loss of Nigel Hughes was a grave one. Naturally, some key Ministries, such as Public Infrastructure must be retained by the AFC. Moreover, to too drastically reduce its share would have dire political consequences.
Concretising the argument against the PM position, is the exposure of the internal power struggle within the AFC (along with the concomitant machinations) and subsequent choice of PM candidate. Not only is that candidate, Mr Khemraj Ramjattan, ineffectual in the Indo-Guyanese community but he raises hackles in the Afro-Guyanese community as well, thus lessening the Coalition’s overall chances. So now the AFC has once again and all alone, put itself in a worse position.
The People’s National Congress (PNC), as the leading partner in the Coalition must therefore, accommodate a slew of new people à la PNC/Reform. Charles Ceres passionately spoke on the lack of inclusion of young people. A young, rising star referred to the apparent fear of intellectuals. Many of these are but a social media message away, people I have worked with and some who have even turned against the Coalition, but ought nevertheless to be reached out to.
In relation to the PM slot, someone independent and of high stature from the Indo-Guyanese community should be offered it; our local peculiarities dictate this. Similarly, and not excluding the diaspora, someone new as Minister of Agriculture. This would send a clear and positive message to the sugar belt. It would also convey the PNC’s continued willingness to work with persons outside of its traditional base.
The PNC still retains goodwill thanks largely to the Grangers. President Granger is on the side of the sugar workers and what happens next in the Ministry of Agriculture will serve to reinforce that. Guyana has also never before seen such a First Lady as Sandra Granger: exemplary, dignified, passionate about helping the poor, down-to-earth and hardworking just to name a few of her stellar qualities. The work of both Grangers remains unfinished, hence my support for their re-election.
Another compelling reason is the very nature of the Coalition’s support base. It is not as blind as that of the People’s Progressive Party (PPP). To highlight the difference in traditional party supporters, I point to the University of Guyana (UG) and Dr Mellissa Ifill. She openly stated that she voted for the coalition in 2015 but has stuck doggedly to her principles. In stark contrast, in the PPP world, being pro-PPP generally trumps principles. She exemplifies the many in the Afro-Guyanese community who go against the grain and stick to principle, a long tradition perhaps most exemplified by the WPA during the time of Dr Walter Rodney. Something that continues to be woefully lacking in the Indo-Guyanese community and a factor why the PPP ought not to rule at this time.
One other urgent issue that the PNC must address is that of taxation. Given that the Coalition has a better record of responsiveness than the oft all too stubborn PPP, a new set of tax policies would be positively received. There is national resentment to the extent that more than a few Coalition supporters may opt to sit out the elections, given the perception of a greater money flow under the PPP. The vexing issue of vehicle duties must also be resolved. For example, by establishing new classes specifically suited to our economy and local conditions with lower duties.
In 2014, I had predicted a win should the AFC coalesce with APNU. It was based on the simple arithmetic that AFC + APNU > PPP. I had argued while that may not necessarily be so, because of the expected consequences of joining with the PNC, it would be enough to create the excitement needed for sufficiently high turnouts in the then opposition strongholds. The AFC, back then seemed more intent on holding on to its miniscule Indian base (if ever it had one) rather than thinking of the national good. I had felt that the toxicity it created would have a lasting negative effect on national cohesion. I had argued it was not only what was said, but how. It was during that time that I resigned from the AFC.
The AFC’s underwhelming performance (Constitution Reform, agriculture, road carnage, etc) coupled with intemperance and arrogance, and the mishandling of sugar workers will see maximum turnouts in PPP strongholds and abstentions among Coalition supporters. This lends grave urgency to the PNC moving beyond the AFC, by seeking new people, credible names.
This coming election may be the mother of all elections and I urge restraint and respect for our fellow Guyanese. Do not let us be used as pawns. At the end of the day political leaders know how to get along with each other, while we the people continue to fight amongst ourselves and struggle in our daily lives.
I will never forget President Granger sitting through the entire Hindu ceremony at my wife’s funeral, right near her serenely sleeping body. I will never forget former Prime Minister Samuel A. A. Hinds and Minister Robeson Benn’s presence in the pouring rain at the funeral either. Both parties have their good, bad and ugly. Let us not hate, but simply make the best of the choices before us and work toward improvements in each successive cycle, ensuring our leaders are held accountable.