With the efflorescence of almost a dozen new parties threatening to contest the March 2020 elections, one common thread in the utterances of a majority of them is a need for “shared governance”. The PNC-led coalition had explicitly included their model for shared governance in their manifesto, but neither their genuflection to the idea in their Cummingsburg Accord with the AFC nor their more expansive explication in the manifesto was implemented.
A stillborn threshold constitutional change initiative was blamed. But it is expected the proposal will be floated once again in their upcoming manifesto. In the meantime, the PPP’s presidential candidate reiterated their “inclusive governance” position articulated in 2003, but noted its limitation on their expansiveness until greater “trust” is engendered among the political fraternity – especially with the PNC.
The idea of shared governance has a long, if not exactly venerable, history in Guyana, starting with Cheddi Jagan’s poignant efforts to form one with the PNC, which had already been promised the government by the colonial power. In 1977, the PPP proposed a “National Front Government” – which, by including all socialist parties, contained the PNC, so as to bring in “all strata and races”.
In 1979, they offered their “Government of National Reconciliation” that differed most significantly from the PPP’s proposal in finding no place for the PNC, since, in their estimation, that party “was part of the problem and could not be part of the solution”. In both proposals, the overt rationale for suggesting the new form of governance was to deal with the economic and social crises that by then had engulfed the society. The PNC had mocked the PPP’s 1977 attempt to include racial discrimination in its formulation by enquiring as to “the socialist content of race”.
Even after they had jettisoned their socialist ideology by the nineties, the PNC – which accepted that voting in Guyana was aligned along ethnic lines, and that their support base was overwhelmingly African Guyanese – refused to explicitly articulate the dilemma as a need for ethnic power-sharing. In 2002, when Mr H.D. Hoyte, as leader of the PNC, finally called for “shared governance”, he blithely ignored the contradiction posed by his continued refusal to link his call for African Guyanese to be explicitly included in Government.
If one were to accept the premise that a community consists of interchangeable “individuals” who vote on issues, then one has to accept the conclusion that a majority of those voters represent the best agglomeration of the “national will”. The party that falls short of obtaining a majority simply has to go back to the drawing board, reformulate its policies and strategies, and hit the streets for the next elections. There can be no justification for changing the rules of the game: justice had been served through majoritarianism.
Shared governance, whether successful or not, can only be justified by a “group”, as opposed to an “individual” conception of political participation, in which an identified ascriptive group, with its unique perspective and interests, would be excluded by the operation of the majoritarian system. This is the case, whether it has been the Flemish in Belgium, Catholics in Netherlands and Northern Ireland, Indians in Fiji, Luo and Kalenjin in Kenya etc. While it is also the case in Guyana, however, there is now no need for explicit external mechanisms to impose power-sharing.
After all, Guyana is now a nation of minorities, and no single party can win an election by a majority, unless it secures a solid block of votes from all the ethnic groups in the country. The majoritarian principle can now ensure “power sharing”. The PPP has stuck with its position that, even though it has a historical ethnic base, it will always seek to convince the largest number of Guyanese that it can represent their interests through its programmes and representative leadership structure.
They are confident that all Guyanese have now had an opportunity to compare them with the PNC in terms of developing the country. And the latter has failed ignominiously.