PPP needs to accommodate  ethnic interests

Starting from the 1960s, the PNC’s attitude towards politics has been “what is ours is ours, and what is the PPP’s is negotiable” – with the PPP to be brought to the negotiation table through force and violence, or threats of the same, with the expectation that the African Guyanese-dominated Disciplined Forces would support them. Around the turn of the new millennium, however, some young radicals in the PNC, which included Aubrey Norton, proposed “executive power sharing” as a new, more positive approach to Guyanese politics. At the time, we proposed a one-term power-sharing arrangement, as in South Africa, during which more permanent arrangements could be worked out under a collegial atmosphere.
PNC Leader Mr. Desmond Hoyte rebuffed the calls, and publicly derided my assertions that voting in Guyana was ethnically based. After the PPP was bludgeoned to the negotiation table in 1998 by violent PNC protests, they supported extensive constitutional changes in 2000, which ROAR criticised as not deep enough to address the African and Indian Ethnic Security Dilemmas.
Paradoxically, their protests continued, and descended into increasingly serious waves of violence against Indian Guyanese after the 2001 elections. Mr Hoyte’s allusion to “kith and kin” in the Disciplined Forces did not help matters, but just before passing away at the end of 2002, he accepted executive power-sharing.
However, the extremists inside and outside continued the Buxton-based gang violence to overthrow the PPP, until they were wiped out in 2008.
In 2007, Aubrey Norton issued a paper, “Governance in an ethnically divided society: the case of Guyana,” in which he argued that “the ethnic security dilemma increases because political power has been treated as a zero-sum game.” He then repeated his argument that African leadership must be part of executive power sharing, to facilitate their constituency’s share of economic and other resources. But after challenges to the leadership, starting in 2009, he was peripheralised when Granger was made leader in 2011 and President in 2015.
The elections of 2011 and 2015 demonstrated that our predicted demographic changes after 2006 could produce the “politics of in and out”, rather than the almost certain “politics of over and under”, when one ethnic group commands an absolute majority in a plural society. We proposed that the PNC should not succumb to calls to be more confrontational in the streets, since this would alienate needed ‘cross-over votes’. They held the line, formed alliances, and removed the PPP Government in 2015.
The proof of the moderating centripetal politicking to attract “outsiders” was provided, and it was left for the PNC-dominated Government to continue in that vein, so that all groups could see their interests represented.
But the present PNC under Norton is responding to extremist pressures, and continues to shoot itself in the foot, as Granger did during his presidency, when he alienated groups outside the PNC’s core constituency, which they need to secure a majority.
For instance, claiming that the PPP rigged their win from the outside; dubbing their Government an “illegal, installed cabal”; and denouncing every governmental initiative since 2020 as “discriminatory and racist” without providing any proof for their allegations, does not help.
Protests against these allegations heightened tensions in the society, so when a justified protest against an unexplained Police killing of an African man ended in an ethnic riot at Mon Repos, it was like a Greek tragedy playing out.
As I had pointed out after the Jan 12, 1998 anti-Indian ethnic riots in the wake of a protest march, it did not matter whether the organizers actually instigated the riot or not. They were, at a minimum, criminally negligent, since, based on our history, they ignored obvious risks, and disregarded the life and safety of those Indian Guyanese vendors at Mon Repos.
To strengthen its centripetal power-sharing mode of governance, the PPP should start by issuing “Ethnic Impact Statements” on their initiatives, monitored by the ERC. They should also reform and professionalise the GPF and other state institutions openly, with their ethnic compositions taking centre stage as Singapore’s Lee Kwan Yu did, and not to play ducks and drakes with this imperative.
Finally, now that PM Mark Phillips has felt he needed to announce his “Afrocentricity”, other African Guyanese in the party should be facilitated to form an “African Guyanese Caucus”, to signal to that constituency that their interests are explicitly represented by their presence.
Aubrey Norton should likewise incorporate an “Indian Guyanese Caucus” in the PNC.