Today is the first day of February and in three weeks, we will be commemorating the 51st anniversary of republican status. While we became “independent” four years earlier, we remained tethered to the colonial “Crown”, through her representative, the Governor General as “Head of State”. As a republic, this last vestige of colonialism was removed and the sovereign people would be governed totally by their chosen representatives, including the Head of State.
For decades before, we – along with so many colonies in the British Empire – on which “the sun never set” – had railed against the imperialist structures that were identified as retarding our progress by keeping us in a state of underdevelopment. The promise of republican government was that at long last, we were to be “masters of our fate; captains of our destiny”. And why not? We could now implement all the measures that would remove the imperialist shackles on our progress – both internationally and domestically.
But as we enter our second half-century, hard questions must be asked as to why we have not fulfilled the promise of republican status, as other colonies such as Singapore and Malaysia, who became independent at the same time we did, have done. One of the most pertinent factors is that the Government that took us into this new station never had the necessary legitimacy conferred upon it by the people. The PNC had been installed into office in 1964 through a coalition with the UF, arranged by the colonial power in a naked and blatant manoeuvre to oust the disfavoured PPP, that had been promised to lead Guyana to independence after winning the previous elections.
After we were granted independence in 1966, the PNC massively rigged the 1968 elections with the connivance of the ex-imperial powers, and declared us a republic on February 23, 1970. More than half of the country retreated into sullen resistance to the imposed PNC Government. This resistance became more open as the PNC militarised the State and proceeded to nationalise and control 80 per cent of the economy to buttress its draconian rule. Their insistence on making their party membership card the sine qua non of keeping a job, ensured that the economy imploded in the decade after attaining republican ranking.
During the same period, the aforementioned ex-colonies of Singapore and Malaysia were moving “From Third World to First” by making completely different strategic decisions on their governance and economic structures. While they were performatively demonstrating the promise of republicanism, Guyana was doing the opposite with a wide swathe of citizens believing that they were better off as a colony.
By the time the PNC was removed through “free and fair” elections in 1992, the political and economic debilitations had become systemic, with both the human and physical resources severely depleted. After 23 years at the helm, the PPP returned the country to a heightened level of normalcy as all social and political development metrics saw upticks. The PNC’s five-year return to Government between 2015 and 2020 in another coalition unfortunately returned the regressive political divisions through its blatantly racially biased policies and its last-gasp attempt to rig the 2020 elections.
The PPP are back in office and after a mere six months, have demonstrated that they are serious about Guyana finally achieving the promise of being a republic. They have been returned to office in free and fair elections that were certified by the international community, including the Western nations and Caricom. This confers international legitimacy. Unlike the case in 1992, Guyana is now a nation of minorities and since the PPP secured an absolute majority of votes, this means that they were able to secure support across the traditional social and political cleavages to earn wide legitimacy for their actions.
With oil revenues to provide financing and natural gas to supply cheap electricity for the next three decades, Guyana is poised through the strategic developmental choices of the PPP to finally move “From Third World to First”.