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National Unity- Hast the time arrived for the final effort?

by Ralph Ramkarran

The PPP started life as a political party which consciously embraced all strata of the society. The most important, immediate, objective was the unity of the major races of the main social groups, the working and middle classes, including intellectuals and professionals. At this early time, 1950, the founders of the PPP understood that its eventual goals, independence and socialism, and more immediate goal of universal adult suffrage, could not be achieved with a divided society and without a mass based party. 

The wave of euphoria after universal adult suffrage, and then the general elections, were won disguised the deep fissures which then existed in our society. These types of divisions were not new. They first existed between the slave owners and slaves, then the Portuguese and Africans and later between the Africans and Indians. The foundation of these differences was the existence of poverty and the ensuing competition for scarce resources. Of course there were other reasons, much of which have been revealed in the debates since that time and more recently. But the PPP’s ideological posture at that time suggested the primacy of economic determinants, which in its view still plays the leading role in keeping these divisions active .

The split of the PPP in 1955, although devastating enough at the time, was only the precursor of worse to come. The internecine violence of the early 1960s and the entrenchment of authoritarian rule for a quarter of a century saw renewed efforts to create unity by way of a government of national unity. The two main proposals were made in the early 1960s for a coalition government and in 1977 for a National Patriotic Front Government. Both were rejected by the then PNC but during the 1980s and up to 1991, Cheddi Jagan constantly talked supportively about “winner does not take all” and “shared governance.” The fact that the PNC had remained officially hostile to these ideas until fairly recently did not prevent Cheddi from orchestrating the publicising of the “Mandela Formula” which saw a national unity government in South Africa. The reason, to some of us who were close to events at the time, was that he continued to harbor strong sentiments in favour of the same ideas that he had been promoting, notwithstanding the hostility of Desmond Hoyte to any such notion. However, the unremitting hostility of the PNC to the PPP and its PPP/C Government combined with the PPP’s return to office in 1992 dampened its ardour for such ideas.

There have been differing interpretations of the election results of last November. But one of those interpretations cannot be denied, namely, that some supporters of the PPP have clearly indicated their disapproval of aspects of the government’s performance. The strength of that disapproval, whether calculated or not, has been sufficient to now make it difficult for the government to conduct the business of the executive, as has been demonstrated with the rejection of some expenditures by the National Assembly.

What is the answer?

There are several alternatives, namely, seeking to move forward by agreement with the opposition, calling new elections and hoping for a more favourable result or a coalition government

The tripartite discussions between the Government and the two Opposition political parties have not brought forth any significant measure of agreement. The first effort collapsed after there appeared to have been agreement between APNU and the Government whereby the Government agreed to increase pensions and increase the income tax threshold and APNU dropped its opposition to the increase for electricity charges to Linden consumers and on which APNU reneged.  Since then there have been charges and counter charges and some bitter recriminations, including the rejection twice of Supplementary Estimates. Talks are scheduled to resume once again but the atmosphere has been poisoned by the sharp exchanges and loud disagreements over various matters in the National Assembly, including in relation to NICIL and the Lotto funds which are both matters of concern to the Opposition.

New elections are a way to resolve the stalemate. But this will only happen if one party obtains an overall majority at the elections. No one can be certain that this will happen. In any event it is likely that the parties have been financially exhausted by the last elections and need time to replenish their coffers. It is doubtful that any of the parties will see elections as a viable option at this time.

The last option, a coalition government, is supported by the Opposition but does not appear to have yet received any consideration by the PPP, if at all. In an effort to preserve stability by not leaving a vacuum, and as the President was constitutionally empowered to do, he appointed a minority Government. In any such situation, without a consensus between the major stakeholders, governance becomes difficult and will continue to be difficult. The only way that such a situation is normally remedied in other countries, and stability preserved, so that the peoples’ business can be conducted with dispatch and efficiency, is for the formation of a coalition government with a minimum programme. Men (and women) have dreamt dreams about this happening in Guyana. It is time that this option is placed on its agenda and that of the nation by the PPP.