As we wrote last year, March 10th will mark 100 years since Governor-General Hardinge of the Government of India issued an order ordering the cessation of shipments of Indentured Indians to Guyana, the West Indies and Fiji. And to mark this seminal event, commemorative events are being organised in each of these locales to allow the descendants of those immigrants to reflect upon their past from the perspective of their present, with an eye towards charting a course to their future.
In Guyana, most of the groups that work in the Indian-Guyanese community, culturally, socially, religiously, etc, have made a laudatory and successful attempt to coordinate the timings and locales of their events so that clashes are minimised. This will ensure that as many Guyanese as possible have the opportunity to participate by their presence. I do not want to pre-empt the official calendar of events that will be released soon save to say that March is practically booked for the entire month.
I can speak about one event I am involved with the youths of the Hindus for Selfless Service (HSS) who have chosen to host a mass event on the West Coast of Demerara on “INDIAN ABOLITION DAY 100: End of Indian Indentureship”. They are collaborating with the umbrella group, “Guyana Indian Immigration Abolition Association”, that is also sponsoring an Arts Exhibition and a Symposium. Rhyaan Shah is involved with this initiative.
The HSS/GIIAA group plan to utilise the “Mela” form of collective activity – “Mela” means “gathering” in Sanskrit – to bring together Guyanese on this special day. They will adapt their Mela, however, to their theme of “Examining the history of Indian Indentureship; confronting the challenges of the present to create a bright future”. The “Mela” or fair was a feature of 19th Century village India and was the site from where a large number of individuals were enticed by the “Arkatiyas” (“Recruiters”) to emigrate to become plantation labourers in so many countries. The group will be recreating the phenomenon by deploying actors as modern-day arkatiyas.
One of the survival mechanisms of the Indian immigrants was to exchange their right of a return passage to India for small plots of lands on which they planted rice. The land was invariably worth less than the return passage, but they accepted the exchange since they would have by then made the decision to remain in Guyana. This crop was first cultivated commercially at Plantation Edinburg on the West Coast of Demerara. The group plans to demonstrate the early method of rice cultivation where stalks of paddy were first cultivated in a small “biyari” and then transplanted laboriously by hand to the “rice beds”. Today, the rice industry – which includes the milling, packaging and shipping of rice – is the largest employer in Guyana and brings in huge amounts of foreign currency.
The Mela will also illustrate the harsh times into which the industry that brought the Indians to Guyana, sugar, has fallen. The closure of the factory at Leonora and Versailles was quite traumatic during the 1970s. But the sudden closure of Wales appears to be replicating the harsh conditions of life during indentureship and they hope to bring some youths from that Plantation to illustrate their plight in skits, song and dance. Special songs have been composed for the occasion.
They also intend to illustrate the other Indian contributions to Guyana, which in addition to saving the sugar industry and creating the rice industry can be seen in jewellery, foods, clothing, religion (Hinduism and Islam), sports, arts and crafts, music, business, entrepreneurship in forestry products, multi-culturalism, movies, etc. As far as possible, booths will be dedicated to these activities. It is interesting that CheddiJagan, who played a critical role in bringing Indians into modern politics, was born and died in March. He, along with other Indian leaders such as Jang Bahadur Sings, will be commemorated in one booth.
But the dark underside of Indian life in Guyana will also be illustrated: booths dealing with the social problems of Indian Guyanese – suicide and alcoholism – will distribute pamphlets and offer suggestions for institutionalised approaches. As they say, come one, come all on March 5th. Venue to be announced.
By Ravi Dev
It may, or may not, have been coincidental, but at the same time the A Partnership for National Unity/Alliance For Change (APNU/AFC) coalition Government announced plans to mobilise and engage the “Guyanese Diaspora” to aid in the development of Guyana, India was hosting its 14th “Pravasi Bharatiya Divas” (PBD) – Overseas Indian Day. Launched in 2003, the 2017 iteration brought over 6000 delegates drawn from 64 countries to India’s IT capital, Bengaluru – which was so recently “Banglore”.
The emblematic “Diaspora” had been formed out of their dispersal of the Jewish people subsequent to their conquest thousands of years ago, when most had been driven into slavery to Babylon and Egypt. In more modern times, the process was not much different for several other “peoples”. Between the 16th and 19th century, two sets of “diasporas” were formed when millions of Africans were snatched from their native lands by Europeans and shipped to the “New World” as slaves – Africans and Europeans of several nationalities.
Following the abolition of slavery in the 19th century, Portuguese, Indians, Chinese and some other groups were shipped as “indentured labour”. The shipments of Indians and Chinese created two new Diasporas that become very significant because of their numbers. Intellectuals from people of African descent – from the USA, the West Indies and Africa – were the first to organise their Diaspora and launched the 1st Pan-African Congress in 1900.
When the 5th Pan-African Congress was held in Manchester in 1945 at the end of WWII, the individuals who were to become leaders in the struggle for independence – such as Eric Williams of Trinidad and Tobago and Jomo Kenyatta of Kenya and Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana – honed a common strategy for their countries, which included a strong development component. As a matter of fact, several West Indian intellectuals, including George Padmore, repatriated themselves to the emerging independent countries in Africa, to assist in their development. Walter Rodney, who had helped craft the agenda for the 7th Pan-African Congress, had evidently decided to return to Africa after the People’s National Congress Government targeted him in 1979.
The successive governments of post-Mao China much more self-consciously mobilised its Diaspora and very successfully tapped into the skills and resources in its drive for development starting in the 1980’s. In 1989, Non-Resident Indians (NRI’s) – who were mere mostly first generation immigrants to the USA – organised the “First Global Organisation of People of Indian Origin” (GOPIO) in New York City to bring together the Indian Diaspora.
But it exposed a new problematic – the descendants of those Indians who had been “exported” in the 19th and early 20th century to European colonies, were now part of secondary diasporas and had some different concerns from the NRI’s – particularly when it came to the “development” of India. The NRI’s generally were focused on increasing their business contacts with India and within their community in the USA, while the “Girmityas” – those arising from the “agreement” of bound labour – were focused on the development of their “new” homelands, and in maintaining cultural links with India.
When the Government of India initiated the annual PBD in 2003, it attempted to accommodate both imperatives – the drive for India’s development by harnessing the skills and resources of its Diaspora and the desire for cultural contacts of the latter. With the advent of the new Government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014, a decision was made to host the event biennially, and to have preparatory structured meetings and discussions in New Delhi with representatives of the Diaspora on identified subject areas.
PBD 2017 demonstrated the success of this new strategy when in the course of three days, the separate day for youths, and the sessions following the plenary gathering addressed by PM Modi allowed the entire Diaspora to express themselves both to each other and to the Government of India.
For Guyana, the experience of its delegates to PBD should be tapped to facilitate its own aspirations to tap into its Diaspora.
The reaction to President David Granger’s attempt to seize Red House and evict the Cheddi Jagan Research
Centre signals that there is still hope for Guyana.
Criticisms about the highhanded manner in which the move was done have come from across party and ethnic lines and signify that there is still a body of decency among the common citizenry. The thuggery and hooliganism that accompanied the revocation of the lease agreement reminded too many of us who lived through the Burnham era of that dark past; and that many are willing to state their positions fearlessly in the press, bears out that there is an active civil society who will not let Guyana return to that darkness. Not without a fight anyway and this should give Granger and the People’s National Congress (PNC) pause.
Attorney and former People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) Executive Member Ralph Ramkarran branded the attempted seizure of the Red House property “the height of executive lawlessness”. This was a major component of Burnham’s style of conducting State business when party paramountcy prevailed over every facet of our lives.
Political commentator Ramon Gaskin stated that the tearing down of the Cheddi Jagan Research Centre sign took us back to “the bullysim of the PNC”.
Stabroek News’ columnist Allan Fenty in a letter to the media appraised the move by Granger as being more “political than legal” and, in another letter to the press, accountant Nigel Hinds condemned the attempted seizure and stated that the Granger Government is acting “as if we are two nations with two destinies”.
Crises can act as a consolidatory force to bring opposing sides together and the reaction to the Red House move, if the revocation was intended to test the waters, should place the Granger Government on notice that Guyanese across the board are not going to allow our country to be dragged back to a Burnhamist past.
The Burnham era was a product of the Cold War. He was kept in power because it suited America’s interests and in these international power plays it mattered little that our country was destroyed in the process. Guyana has not yet recovered from that period of executive lawlessness, mismanagement, corruption, racism and wholesale destruction because in its 23-year governance, the PPP/C made its own grave missteps and became as haughty and arrogant.
Because the PPP/C has lost the moral high ground, the current crop of PNC parliamentarians and sycophants like to use their wrongs as justification for their own wrongdoings. There is that old saying that two wrongs never make a right and it sums up the impasse that currently obtains with parties and politicians who refuse to use their good offices to lift Guyana out of its morass.
More than being an issue about the rule of law, the attempted seizure of Red House hit many of us at an emotional level and came with the realisation that if someone as heroic as CheddiJagan can be treated with such scant regard, there is little hope for the rest of us.
The impending closure of the historic sugar industry and the disregard for the sugar workers’ plight is a case in point; and the Burnhamist tactics used by Granger in the attempted seizure brought to the forefears about his Government’s intent to return Guyana to the darkest period of that era.
That Granger could pick up Burnham’s legacy at the point where he had accepted the failure of his policies and had reached out to Cheddi Jagan to establish a national front government.
Tragically, Burnham died before this new level of political maturity could have been realised and no subsequent leader of either party has ever revisited this idea in any of their efforts at uniting our country. Putting the failed Public Health Minister at the head of the Social Cohesion department could be viewed as a Freudian slip: even Granger himself admits that this State programme is nothing but a fraud.
Social cohesion can never be mandated by a Government that parades its racism openly. It could become a reality, however, through an organic movement from the people themselves that are driven by a common cause and an adherence to decency.
The Red House fiasco has brought with it an element of hope that we can still stand united when the cause is just. It is always the straw that breaks the camel’s back and that this can be the catalyst that will finally bring us together to settle our historical hurts and help us to move forward might be a hope too soon.
But the promise is there.
Bharrat Jagdeo has been elected as the new General Secretary (GS) of the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) to the surprise of not many. At the Party’s Congress in Essequibo last month, he received the largest number of votes to the Central Committee (CC) and was obviously the most highly regarded by the rank and file.
At that highest forum of the PPP, the dominant expressed sentiment was that the Party’s top leadership needed to be consolidated to confront the challenges at this juncture of its history and the history of Guyana. It was clear there were some in that leadership who were more concerned with their own ambitions than in representing the constituency the Party represented.
What was operating has been described as the “Iron Law of Institutions”. This posits that some “people who control institutions care first and foremost about their power within the institution rather than the power of the institution itself. Thus, they would rather the institution “fail” while they remain in power within the institution than for the institution to “succeed” if that requires them to lose power within the institution.”
After the last elections when the PPP was removed from office, the Party faltered because of this factor and did not take full advantage of the missteps of the People’s National Congress (PNC)-led A Partnership for National Unity/Alliance For Change (APNU/AFC) coalition to demonstrate to the Guyanese people, the clear and present danger they face from the PNC, which was merely taking them back to the vicissitudes of their first regime. The last “tax and waste” budget was one example of the PNC’s contempt for the Guyanese people while the attempted illegal expulsion of the CheddiJagan Research Centre (CJRC) from Red House through bullyism exemplified the frontal attack on the PPP occasioned by the divisions they detected in the PPP’s top leadership.
The majority of the members of the CC must be commended for rising to the challenge. At the elections for the GS, these members withstood the challenge from those who would continue with the old, divided leadership and accepted the unique confluence of experience and youth represented by BharratJagdeo in consolidating the leadership as had been done for most of the history of the PPP. He is now the leader of the party in its role as part of the constitutionally defined executive branch of Government as the “Leader of the Opposition” and the leader of the PPP political party mobilising the Guyanese people to articulate their interests in the operations of the State.
As Jagdeo said after his election as GS, the work ahead must address both aspects of the PPP’s mandate. As Leader of the Opposition, the PPP will have to present itself as ready to lead the nation after the next elections in 2020. The PNC-led Government has confirmed its unsuitability to govern Guyana. Economically, their performance has been nothing short of disastrous. Even his most vociferous critic would have to concede there is no other leader than Jagdeo who is qualified to lead Guyana in this area. He worked to successfully remove the debt albatross from the neck of the nation, which had been bequeathed by the PNC and piloted programmes that delivered the highest growth rate in the Region for almost a decade.
In terms of his leadership of the Party, Jagdeo’s challenge would be to address the perception that the PPP is not representative of all the groups in Guyana. While the PPP has throughout its history doggedly stuck to its commitment from 1950 to represent all the peoples of Guyana, the departure of Burnham precipitated a split both of the Party and the country’s ethnic groups that is still unhealed. But with the PNC-led coalition demonstrating its opportunistic use of the AFC to just give lip service to the goal of national unity, the PPP under the leadership of BharratJagdeo is poised to demonstrate concretely that it can do the job.
China is the second largest trading partner of Latin America and the Caribbean, which is also a major destination for outbound Chinese investment, second only to Asia. China’s direct investment in Latin America and the Caribbean has exceeded US$150 billion.
According to a draft Policy paper by the Chinese Government, China sees itself as brining development opportunities to the rest of the world. It is estimated that in the next five years, China will import US$8 trillion of goods, invest US$750 billion overseas, and Chinese tourists will make 700 million outbound visits. All this will present an even bigger market, more capital, a greater variety of products and more valuable cooperation opportunities to countries around the world, including Guyana.
Very often we hear the saying that Guyana boasts great development potential. However, there is one huge potential which is widely ignored, the potential of strengthened economic ties with China. According to the Statistical Bulletin of China’s Outward Foreign Direct Investment, China’s FDI stock to Guyana at the end of 2014 is only US$0.24 billion, less than 0.03 per cent of China’ global amount of that year.
In view of bilateral trade, if we check the statistics compiled by Guyana Bureau of Statistics, China, the soon-to-be largest market of the world, is not even on the list of top ten destinations of Guyana’s exports and the value of exports to China is tallied among “other countries”. Ironically, some local media still complain that Guyana had sold too much volume of commodities to China.
While enjoying deep diplomatic relations, China and Guyana hold similar views and have consistently echoed and supported each other’s positions, be it on key international issues such as UN reform, climate change, sustainable development, regional integration and cooperation between China and the Caribbean.
Guyana is the largest Caribbean country and one of the only two Caricom countries located on the South American continent. On the south of Guyana is Brazil, the largest economy in South America, also a member of BRIC countries. On the north is the whole Caribbean Basin toward the North American continent.
So geographically and culturally, Guyana plays a strategic role in bridging South America with the Caribbean and further north. This unique advantage, now becoming even more valuable due to the rising trade protectionism, can be taken off in service of Guyana’s economic development goal. The countries share in the benefits of the tremendous volume of goods, people and services which flow between South America and the Caribbean, via Guyana, only when certain infrastructure bottlenecks of land and sea transportation can be overcome, namely, when the highway and deep-water harbour projects are initiated. In pursuing connectivity of this magnitude, supporting industries like energy and telecommunication also need to be expanded and upgraded.
Based on the above analysis, four fields in the cooperation between China and Guyana could be identified and prioritised for further strengthening; these include infrastructure, energy, ICT technology application and capacity building. In tandem with other partners and stakeholders, the Chinese government and enterprises are willing and able to play a more active role in those fields in Guyana.
Over the years, Guyana has seen tangible benefits in a number of areas, particularly health, infrastructure and information technology. The most recent projects include the Smart Guyana Project by Hauwei Technologies and a multimillion-dollar contract with China’s Exim Bank for the construction of roads in West Demerara.
Right after Chinese President Xi Jinping wrapped up his state visits to Ecuador, Peru and Chile in November, the Chinese government issued its second Policy Paper on Latin America and Caribbean. The Policy paper aims at summarizing the development experience and elaborating new ideas, proposals and initiatives in guiding China’s cooperation with Latin America and the Caribbean in various areas for the future. This is a “now or never” opportunity that both China and Guyana must grasp.
Guyana stands on the precipice of becoming an oil-producing economy and while the knowledge that oil-producing countries are at an advantage economically is comforting, there is an oxymoronic dynamic that is involved with this particular situation.
On one hand, there is Guyana’s push for a “green economy”, which is premised on the reduction of our carbon footprint, while on the other hand, Guyana is advancing the proliferation of oil for economic gains. The end result of which will invariably add to the already colossal greenhouse gas emissions that come with the extraction, production and consequent burning of oil.
Oil production, it seems, is inevitable based on the information being disseminated from ExxonMobil that Guyana has a recoverable resource of between 800 million and 1.4 billion oil-equivalent barrels. With that inevitability comes the oxymoronic dilemma mentioned above.
We do believe that if Guyana becomes an economy which is based on oil, it will be at a crossroad, that is, from its local push for a green economy/ fighting climate change, and from its international obligations and treaties (COP 21) seeking tangible compliance in the reduction of the world’s carbon footprint from developing countries.
Research has shown the deleterious effects associated with climate change. One of the largest contributors to climate change is greenhouse gases and primary among those gases is Carbon Dioxide (CO2), which is produced naturally, but is excessively exacerbated through human activity such as the burning of fossil fuels (oil).
Ironically, the biggest emitters of greenhouse gases are the developed countries, such as the United States, the European Union members, China and Canada among others. However, the countries that are required to do the most in terms of avoiding further climate change damage are the poor and developing countries. They are being cajoled by developed countries through international organisations to implement changes counterproductive to their projected growth by not utilising the route already advanced and taken by the said developed countries years before.
It is for this reason, former President Bharrat Jagdeo articulated for and succeeded in getting funding from Norway (a developed country) to simply put, pay for Guyana to keep its forest intact. This move ensured that Guyana was compensated for not going down the traditional route of exploiting its natural resource via rapid deforestation for economic gains.
Clearly, Guyana will come under some form of scrutiny and criticism if it digresses from its much-touted going green and combating climate change disposition towards one where the end result would lead to the proliferation of greenhouse gases by contributing to the oil industry and its consequent ills.
To stay clear from such murky waters maybe Guyana should go the route that it did with its forests. A feasibility study should be done to determine the net positive and negative impacts that would be derived if Guyana chose not to mine its oil reserves. Guyana could then be compensated for not going down the path of extracting its reserves.
It might be a farfetched idea taking into consideration the legal ramifications and the amount of resources already invested by ExxonMobil to find and extract oil off of Guyana’s shores and to drill two wells already. However, in the final analysis, even the most entrenched agreements can be restructured and compromised.
It all depends on how serious we are in fighting climate change and protecting the world for the future generations to come.
We repeat our editorial from September, not to gloat about our prediction but to emphasise why that prediction was correct – the effects of “American Exceptionalism” and “Nativism”.
“Contrary to what most of the political pundits outside U.S. borders thought would be the case by now, Donald Trump is still setting the agenda for the U.S. presidential race against Hillary Clinton. With their elections less than two months away …Trump is well on his way to become the next president of the United States – as this paper proposed back in March even before Trump secured the Republican nomination.
The force driving Trump forwards and over Clinton is he is representing some very deep fears in huge swathes of Americans who have seen the boast of “American Exceptionalism” (AE) exposed as being just a hollow boast. Clinton, as part of the old politics, is blamed for allowing America to become “ordinary” and be subjected to all the ailments and challenges that only other nations were supposed to face – such as depending on “foreigners” to offer it credit to maintain its standard of living.
American Exceptionalism arose from three strands of thought, the first of which sprouted in the circumstances of their formation as the first nation to have become independent through a revolution. This revolution was not confined to defeating the colonial power Britain on the battlefield but spread to instituting new ideas in governance, constitutionalism, individualism and business. Very early on, the U.S. leaders also undertook a mission to export their vision of what the world ought to look like through doctrines such as the Monroe Doctrine in 1823 and its wars to “make the world safe for democracy” into the present. And finally, there is the firm conviction that because of their “exceptionalism”, the U.S. is superior to other nations.
After WWII, AE was challenged by the USSR in the Cold War between the two nations, but by 1989, America emerged as the lone superpower standing as the USSR disintegrated. But even then, the seeds had already been set by economic forces that would witness the emergence of other nations such as Japan, China and India that would command enough resources to become quite independent of the U.S. hegemony.
Interestingly, the growth of those nations was facilitated by U.S.-based global corporations that felt impelled to seek greater profits through first licensing their technology to foreign countries with cheaper labour costs and then to actually “outsourcing” production and operations there. American manufacturing prowess atrophied and their well-paid blue-collar work force atrophied. Trump is exploiting the resentment of the millions that have been adversely affected by this move by promising he would reverse it through “macho” unilateral actions that evoke “American Exceptionalism”. In trying to be more nuanced and acknowledging the limits of modern American power, Clinton is seen as “weak”.
Simultaneously with the “outsourcing” of American production and services, illegal immigrants –- generally non-white – were allowed in to perform the menial jobs that the Americans would not accept at the rates offered. At the other end of the spectrum, skilled workers – most of them also non-whites from India and China – were also encouraged in to perform high-paying jobs in the STEM areas. This created a backlash of “nativism” – that Trump has also exploited through threats of mass deportations and building a wall on the border with Mexico – against which, Clinton, as part of the old order, cannot compete.
Finally, while both Trump and Clinton have committed to “defending democracy” abroad, Trump has placed more emphasis on other countries accepting greater responsibility for defending themselves. While this may appear to be a diminution of the American Exceptional commitment to “bear any burden” to defend “democracy”, Trump, much more effectively than Clinton, has struck just the right note of bellicosity towards the US traditional allies to be defended, which masks the retreat.And the Trump juggernaut rumbles on.”
With less than one week to go for the US elections scheduled for November 8, that horse race is now in the homestretch. Even before the primaries were over, this newspaper went out on a limb and suggested that the rank outsider Donald Trump might go all the way. He went on to win the Republican nomination quite handily and then raised his poll ratings to almost equal those of his Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton, who has been the very definition of a “Washington insider” that was supposed to “play” the system.
However, late last month, revelations that Trump had made, under the kindest interpretation, some rather tasteless statements about women, saw his poll numbers plunge way below his opponent’s and led the pundits to virtually write him off of the race. Women, after all, comprise at least half of the electorate, and the “smart money” presumed most of them would be offended by Trump’s jaundiced view of women. But seemingly inexorably, those numbers began to climb and last week, when the FBI revealed it was reopening a probe into official emails Clinton had stored on a private server, Trump had closed the gap within striking distance.
But it is important to step back and examine the reasons why Trump’s numbers started to climb upwards even before Clinton’s email scandal resurfaced. As we have pointed out in this space repeatedly, Trump is tapping into some very primal fears in the collective American psyche centredaround “nativism” and “American Exceptionalism”, and these have not been evaporated away by Trump’s gaffe. Nativism – looking down on immigrants and scapegoating them for what ails the society – has actually increased since Trump entered the political fray.
He has given voice to what had become “politically incorrect” for the “establishment” figures to utter in the post-Civil Rights era in the US and the 1960s’ Enoch Powell rightist rants in Britain. The nativism in Britain resulted in Brexit and whether Trump becomes President of the US or not, there will be no going back to facile assumptions that the US had entered into a “post racial” era after the election of Barack Obama to the American presidency. Trump may have toned down his explicit anti-immigrant rhetoric as he went into the stretch, but his insistence that a “wall” must be built along the Mexican border (and paid for by Mexico) is a signifier to his base that he “means business”.
Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, is trapped into the liberal rhetoric of “comprehensive immigration reform” that includes regularising illegal immigrants, which is a red flag to nativists, and about which even most moderate Americans are not very passionate. Trump epitomises the “American Exceptionalism” button – that America is basically superior to other nations because of its unique history and values –- with his swagger, bluster and threats to even put allies in their “place”. And here again, while Clinton has of recent began to play this card, it has actually backfired in that some of her “moderate” supporters see the move as “pandering” to Trump.
As the dust is beginning to settle, it can be seen that neither the debates nor the scandals have altered the equation between the two candidates significantly. Trump’s challenge, therefore, might not be at the level of the popular vote, but at the “electoral college”, which actually elects the President and Vice President. In the US, every state is allowed a number of “electors” depending on their population – excepting for the smaller states that must have at least three. Forty-eight of the fifty states are treated as a “winner takes all” situation for a total of 538 electors. Because of the lack of total congruity between population and electors, in 2000, Gore lost to George Bush even though he received more popular votes.
With Trump emphasising Clinton’s “unsuitability” for the presidency because of what could be serious leaks from her emails, he might still win it all.
October 5 passed without much fanfare even though it was the 24th anniversary of “free and fair” elections being returned to Guyana. Starting in 1968, the PNC under Forbes Burnham had rigged elections to thwart the democratic will of the Guyanese people and keep his party in power.
In the post-WWII period, there had been great expectations raised in the minds of the populace that independence from colonial Britain via democratic elections would augur a life of prosperity and dignity for all Guyanese. It was self-evident to the populace that the wealth of the colony had been “drained” to the “Mother Country” and once that “drain” was staunched, it was assumed standards of living had to rise.
That it did not after 1966 – and in fact the Guyanese economy collapsed – made the demands for “real democracy” even more intense. But very early on, however, it was seen that even “democratic elections” were not as straightforward as was thought.
During the lead-up to Independence, British Guiana had the identical method of “democratic elections” as all Britain’s former colonies that would later transition from the “British Empire” to the “Commonwealth”, including Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago that received independence four years before Guyana. This was the “first past the post” (FPTP) method that divided a country into “constituencies” from which a Member of Parliament was elected from a field of party or independent candidates. The virtue of this system, still in use in all the Commonwealth countries, is that it takes democracy closer to the people by having them directly electing their MP to represent them.
The Proportional Representation (PR) method, which was introduced in 1964, treated the entire country as one constituency with two claimed virtues. The first was that it allowed small parties to be elected to Parliament since their support in the total electorate was agglomerated and this also helped reduce the strength of the larger parties.
Secondly, that the representation of the parties in Parliament would be more reflective of their actual support. But because it had been widely discussed even before the 1964 elections, everyone knew PR was simply an “outcome determinative” manoeuvre to remove the PPP from office. This lessened the legitimacy of the Government.
After 1992, there were changes in the Constitution whereby Guyana now has a “hybrid” electoral system with elements of both FPTP and PR and there have been no recent complaints of “exclusion” by political aspirants.
The PPP governed under “free and fair” elections and while there were claims and counter claims of electoral distortions, these have not delegitimised the results of elections. But questions about the efficacy of “democracy” itself as practised were raised on the question of whether its economic promise can be fulfilled.
The challenge is one that arises in all deeply divided societies: while the Government may have received a majority of the votes, its legitimacy is questioned by a large swathe of the populace that did not vote for it. Its practices are also scrutinised for “discriminatory” effects, as rewards to party supporters inevitably follow the cleavages in the society. Thus, directly after the 1992 elections, the PNC strenuously raised cries of “ethnic cleansing” in the Public Service.
Matters escalated after the 1997 elections, and riots and other violence forced President Janet Jagan out of office and created a siege mentality in the succeeding PPP regimes. While the PPP wiped off the debt and maintained a healthy growth rate averaging four per cent during its 23 years at the helm, it was not as high as it could have been if the entire society had put their shoulder to the wheel.
The lack of legitimacy in the new government in the eyes of a large section of the society following the polarising 2015 elections, and the economic stagnation should raise the question whether the adversarial form of democracy should not be challenged by a more consensual one.