Guyana achieved centripetal power sharing

The demands for “power-sharing” are once again rising to a crescendo in sections of the Opposition camp, as it did after 2011 but had become muted after forming a coalition Government in 2015. The present PPP Government is dubbed an “installed dictatorship”, and the leader of the PNC, APNU and Opposition is being pressured to come out into the streets against the PPP.
Post-2008, after the attacks on the state and perceived PPP Indian Guyanese supporters by armed bandits based in Buxton had waned, the then PPP was described by influential columnist Freddie Kissoon as an “elected dictatorship”, and he also demanded street protests by the Opposition PNC. Pointing out the omnipresent danger of street protests in Guyana unleashing violence against Indian Guyanese, I argued against such actions. They would deter crossover votes from that community, which traditionally voted for the PPP but might be suffering from incumbency fatigue, or have other reasons for not voting for them. The PNC, I proposed, should instead reach across the divide and modify its old image, and it could actually start winning elections. Mr Kissoon and several leaders from the African Guyanese community – Messrs Lincoln Lewis, Eric Philips etc. – accused me of seeking to have African Guyanese commit political suicide.
But our surveys had showed that the Indian Guyanese population had dropped precipitously to less than 40%, and we were now a nation of minorities. The African/Mixed Guyanese populace had now more than matched the Indian Guyanese to resolve the African Security Dilemma. The Amerindian population and moderates from the major communities were now a potential floating voter pool that could be swayed by either side to agglomerate a majority. The AFC in 2006 mobilised this segment.
From a mobilisation standpoint, I was pointing out that the changing demographics had serendipitously delivered a situation where power could be effectively shared among the various ethnic groups in the society at the polls under the present majoritarian system. In many other divided societies, this needed explicit constitutional and electoral innovations such as a 65% supermajority, the Alternative Vote (AV) and the Single Transferable Vote (STV). The PNC abjured street protests, changed their name to APNU by coalescing with 5 nominal outside parties, and the 2011 elections showed we were on the right track. APNU’s subsequent coalition with the AFC – led by Ramjattan and Moses Nagamootoo for the 2015 elections – deepened the coalition’s attraction for crossover votes, and their win confirmed our prediction.
There will be objections to my claim that any Government elected in Guyana by the present demographics will be a “power-sharing” one. This is primarily because our discourse on power-sharing has been dominated by the notion of a “grand coalition” of all parties – part of what is called a “consociational” arrangement. The other power-sharing approach, which we had been promoting, is “centripetalism”; connoting a force (here, self-interest) that moves the parties towards a moderate centre. If our parties act rationally, as the PNC from 2011 to 2015 and the PPP in 2020, either could win elections here if they moderate their claims and actions. APNU/AFC lost the plot after 2015 when they fired 7000 primarily Indian Guyanese sugar workers.
As one who has been making power-sharing proposals since the late 1980s, we accept there will be challenges. The first is “adoptability”: whether the major political parties will adopt them. Consociational “Executive power-sharing” has been a non-starter since the 1960s by whichever party is in Government. It is always threatened by the second challenge of “immobilism”, which is occurring presently in N. Ireland, when the arrangement can be vetoed by one member of the grand coalition withholding their vote.
Centripetal power-sharing, however, has been serendipitously delivered to us. As I noted in my 1990 paper, “For a New Political Culture”: “Those who wish to engender social changes have to start from where we are – not where we ought to be.” We need to institute guarantees such as Ethnic Impact Statements (EIS), and strengthen the judiciary, to ensure that the Government is treating all groups equitably.
Lastly, in centripetal power-sharing, there is the problem of “degradation”: when the larger party that attracted cross-over votes breaks its agreement with its representatives. Their censure comes at elections. The post-2015 APNU/AFC coalition was “mannered” in 2020, and the PPP’s test will come in 2025. We have been delivered into the democratic comity of alternating Governments.