Throughout 2009, I argued for the Opposition and its partisans to abandon their insistence that the PPP was an “Elected Dictatorship”, since it blocked them from seizing the real opportunity to win power at the polls. I wrote about the “grievance-hunting” mindset – “a pathological condition that betrays a state of mind uniquely incapable of seizing the opportunities and responsibilities of the present, and so must morbidly escape to the past to discover a sanctuary of grievance for itself.” In January 2010, I expanded on this theme in an article, “Stuck in the past”, which I excerpt below, since I believe the failed strategy is being repeated with the Opposition’s “incipient apartheid state” charge.
“The fixation…is due primarily to ideologues locking on to a problem space from the past and refusing to rigorously interrogate the present, mechanistically (applying) the answers from that past to circumstances that might have changed radically. Critiques being always strategic: those answers are not so much wrong as irrelevant. The “expired strategies” invariably lead to frustration and anger, since even though hard work may be done to implement them, success is elusive. External malevolent forces and scapegoats are blamed for the failure, and the grievance-hunting mentality is reinforced.
“Take, for instance, the insistence by many…that, “How can an electoral system in a racially divided nation be ‘free and fair’ when only one side can win because of an ethnic census?” This is an exemplary instance of refusing to interrogate the present, and to dwell only on the past. The “problem spaces” then and now are different: the questions to be posed must be different, and therefore so might be the answers…
In the 1997 and 2001 elections, the PPP won while the PNC maintained its usual percentage…and precipitated violence and a further resistance against cross-ethnic support. The PPP, in the meantime, cognisant of the inexorable shrinkage of its traditional base due to higher rates of emigration, maintained its well-oiled electoral machinery and intensified its wooing of the Amerindian and African Guyanese blocs. The PPP, unlike the PNC, was adjusting to the new problem space. It should not be surprising that, in 2006, the PPP repeated its majority even though Indians were then only 43% of the electorate.
“From our informal surveys (in 2009), the percentage of Indians in the population is now below 40% (this was proven correct in the 2012 census, which showed Indian Guyanese at 39.8%). The question in our present problem-space is therefore not how to deal with the obstacle — an automatic built-in majority -– or even a plurality. The answer, then, has to be different. I believe that it is the Opposition’s own unwillingness to forge a strategy and build a mobilisation machinery that could deny the PPP a majority, rather than any inbuilt “ethnic censuses”, that is keeping the PPP in office. In such a scenario, even if the PPP at best secures the Presidency, it would need Opposition support to govern. This could provide the leverage for initiating changes in governance structures, and was the premise of my “Centre Force” proposal in 2005. The “Third Force” platform that was actually floated was torpedoed by such crass political opportunism, naked ambition, and gamesmanship that I am quite cynical about the “change” being touted.
“I still believe we need a system of governance that will engage the widest possible consent of our people. However, simply repeating this aspiration like an incantation will not bring it into existence. It is the people that will have to be convinced of this need, and make their convictions known at the polls. And this is the task of the Opposition. The people whose opinions we hope to change cannot be just castigated as “fools”; their fears have to be understood as rational and real – and certainly not to be further inflamed.
“The history of our present also does not justify a narrative that arbitrarily essentialises one group (Indian Guyanese) as congenitally incapable of change, and another (African Guyanese) as having no control over being elected into office. To accept that reality is socially constructed (albeit withing stubborn structural conditions) is to assert that we and our future can be changed. The present is pregnant with positive possibilities, and it is up to the Opposition to cast off their debilitating mindset of grievance and create that change.”
And as it was true in 2010, so it is in 2022.