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Forked Tongue: Stabroek News’ Criticism of APNU for following its advice on “Making Deals” with the Government

By Professor David Hinds

I had decided not to say anything public about the appalling, though not surprising, politics of the APNU and the AFC over the last few days. But I changed my mind when I read Stabroek News’ April 23, 2012 editorial (APNU’s Deals with the Government).

The editorial waded into the APNU for secretly meeting with the PPP government without the AFC. According to the Stabroek News: “No matter how it is parsed or spun, APNU’s deal-making last week with the PPP/C government will be seen as a continuation of the historic engagement of the duopoly that has bestridden the political landscape for the last 55 years or so and which has left the country wallowing in the backwaters of development and deeply divided.” But it is this statement that caught my attention: “Further, it has `tied bundle’ with a notoriously untrustworthy dialogue partner in the PPP/C whose recalcitrance, prevarication and backsliding have been well established particularly in the last decade. The failed Jagdeo-Hoyte and the Jagdeo-Corbin talks are a stark testament to the failure of our politicians at the highest levels.” 

But this is the same Stabroek News which editorialized on December 16 (Constructive Dialogue) with the following words: “So, we need our politicians, supported and encouraged by civil society, to be at their most reasonable and adaptable in the coming days, weeks and months, if we are to avoid the added stress of an early election. We need them to engage in constructive dialogue, to Make Deals, as the only practical, political strategy, if all Guyana is to win something out of the realignment of forces in Parliament. Obviously, for this to happen, the political will must exist on all sides to move the country forward.” (SN: December 16, 2011).

It is clear from the above that Stabroek news  is speaking with a forked tongue. On December 16 it tells the opposition to Make Deals. Then on April 23, it berates the APNU for making deals. What is Stabroek News up to? The gist of April 23 editorial is the paper’s anger at the APNU for not supporting the AFC’s proposal to make cuts in the budget and for talking to the government behind the back of the AFC. It is Stabroek News’ right to support the AFC and champion its cause, as it has done since that party’s formation. But it also has a right, as an influential public institution, to be even-handed in its criticisms. Stabroek News is right to criticize the APNU for making deals with the government. But it must also acknowledge that it was wrong when it suggested to the opposition on December 16 to make deals with the government.

Stabroek News blames the APNU for spoiling relations with the AFC. According to Stabroek News “Just months after the elections, APNU has managed to undermine whatever solidarity existed with the AFC” (SN: December 16, 2011). Stabroek News cannot be serious. Both parties are to be equally blamed on that score. In fact, there was never any solidarity in the first place. The AFC accepted the results of the elections without any consultation with the APNU.  Stabroek News attacks the APNU for making deals on the budget without the knowledge of the AFC, but remained silent when the AFC attempted to make deals with the government, initially without the knowledge of the APNU, on the Speakership of the parliament. When the AFC abstained on the vote on Financial Paper Number 8, Stabroek News did not write an editorial criticizing that party. What double standards!

Stabroek News also correctly warns the APNU that “Whatever epiphany APNU conjured up of the Ramotar administration, it has embarked upon a course that will lead to harsh judgements from its constituency and other stakeholders if expected radical reforms aren’t evident in reasonable time. The majority which voted against the PPP/C’s record would have done so for many reasons foremost among which would have been the twisted governance, corruption, shady deals, a stagnant economy and the enriching of a select few while poverty remains insidious in parts of the country.”  (SN: April 23, 2012). Very good Stabroek News for taking into consideration the views and feelings of APNU’s constituency.

But when some of us attempted to rally that constituency immediately after the elections by taking to the streets and expressing no-confidence in the PPP to govern alone, you shouted at us to get off the streets and urged that we instead enter into dialogue and make deals with PPP. This is what Stabroek News wrote in part in a December 11 editorial (A Bad Week): “So what are their supporters doing on the streets, when they know what the reality is, and when all that will happen is that they damage their party’s long-term chances of improving on their result? Street action is quite simply a cul-de-sac….In addition, some of the WPA leaders along with one or two ex-military men of the PNC are talking in very militant terms at a time when negotiating skills are at a premium.” (SN: December 11, 2011).

As one of the WPA leaders to which the editorial refers I can say that what we saw in December is what Stabroek News  now acknowledges. We knew then that anything short of a political solution would leave the APNU and AFC with little political space and invariably lead to deal-making. We preferred negotiations accompanied by street action to push for a political settlement rather than the negotiations and deal-making outside of a political solution, which Stabroek News advised. But Stabroek condemned us: “And contrary to what they or the WPA might be tempted to think, a national unity government cannot be imposed by force or threats or demonstrations; it is a contradiction in terms and a denial of the democratic process” (SN: December 11).

The APNU leaders followed Stabroek News’ advice instead of ours and in the process has alienated much of its constituency. The Linden saga is vivid testimony to this. Now Stabroek News berates the APNU and is attempting to instigate its constituency against it. It is not just the duopoly that Stabroek News refers to that has got Guyana in the mess it is in. But equally damaging are the inconsistencies and seeming political opportunism of the opinion-shapers like the Stabroek News.

Let me say in closing that I disagreed with the December 11 and 16 editorials for all the reasons stated in the April 23 editorial. I am firm in my belief that there should be absolute non-cooperation with the government so long as it continues to exercise absolute executive power. It is against the democratic spirit and letter for a party, in an acutely ethnically divided country, that has 48% of the vote to wield 100% executive power, even if the constitution allows it to do so. It is politically immoral. I am equally firm in my belief that the PPP does not believe in constructive dialogue and will not practice such so long as it holds the rein of power. The PPP will only come to that point through militant, but non-violent, pressure, including street action.

It is for these reasons that I prefer the joint-opposition use its parliamentary majority as leverage to bring about a political solution. The primary dialogue with the PPP should be to democratize the political process and practice, beginning with an all-party National Government. Dialogue on all other issues should be subject to the PPP’s willingness to advance that cause. The job of the APNU and the AFC is not to help the minority government to govern, but to turn minority governance into majority governance. Cutting government waste and corruption and winning relief such as raising the old age pension are highly laudable. But if those are not tied to a democratization of power, they would be rendered meaningless in the long run. The price for an end to corruption and relief for seniors cannot be the PPP continued monopoly of political power.  Let me also say also that I firmly believe that the APNU and AFC should have a common purpose and mode of operation. Neither party should be talking to the government without the knowledge of the other or without the other being present.

David Hinds is a Political Activist and Commentator. He is an Associate Professor of Political Science and Caribbean and African Diaspora Studies in the School of Social Transformation at Arizona State University. His writings can be found on his website guyanacaribbeanpolitics.com