The Cummingsburg Accord was announced on Valentine’s Day, Feb 14, 2015, by APNU and AFC as the culmination of sustained negotiations that would delineate the distribution of power in the government to be formed if their consummated coalition were to win the imminent elections. But the Accord had wider reverberations for Guyanese politics.
One factor militating against coalitions in Guyana — in addition to the inherent distaste for the mechanism in the Liberal Democratic conventions passed on by the British – is their reluctance to acknowledge that the basis of any effective coalition would be an acknowledgement of representing the ethnic interest of the two major groups. And this is where the APNU/AFC coalition touted itself as different: the APNU implicitly conceded its legitimacy would be augmented if the AFC, with its Indian-dominated Berbice base, were to adopt a common slate and platform.
Many Guyanese, despairing at the ethnic divisions stymieing their country’s development over the last half century, felt this was a bold innovation, especially with the AFC being granted forty percent of the Cabinet positions as well as a Prime Ministership with impressively augmented powers – all spelled out in the Cummingsburg Accord. They felt this “power sharing” arrangement, while not ideal, was a step in the right direction, especially when it was suggested that elements of the PPP might also be drafted into the new Government.
Most disappointingly, however, in the allocation of the spoils after their successful campaign, it became evident that the PNC-led APNU kept neither the letter nor the spirit of the Accord. The number of Ministries was firstly expanded by adding a welter of “Junior Ministers”, thereby diluting the actual powers of the appointed AFC Ministers. In addition, two individuals — touted as “AFC” — received the two most powerful portfolios, Agriculture and Natural Resources, without having been nominated by the party. There was apparently a “Nassau Accord” with the latter.
Then, in a further volte face, the President announced one of the critical new powers granted to the AFC-selected Prime Minister – to Chair Cabinet meetings — would not be implemented because of a “constitutional” bar. While this was arguable, it certainly was not in the spirit of a coalition agreement that was meant to signal real power sharing.
Since then, the AFC leaders have been playing a rather coy game of denying they were denied the powers delineated by the Accord, while demanding that the latter be ‘renegotiated”. Matters came to a head last November when the Canadian affiliate of the AFC quit in disgust in a very public and contentious manner over decisions taken by the party’s leadership that suggested they were not allowed any autonomy in decision-making within the coalition.
At this point, when the AFC leaders demanded that the Accord be renegotiated before its third anniversary, the leader of the PNC and APNU, David Granger, pointed out that the Accord itself stated that such a renegotiation could only take place AFTER the third Anniversary. Technically, this period begins on Feb 15, this coming Thursday, and it is expected that the AFC will be proposing the exact date imminently. All Guyana are awaiting the form and substance of the “renegotiation” of the Cummingsburg Accord, since, as suggested above, the issue of ethnic power-sharing in our country goes beyond the two players who will be at the table.
There are those that assert the PNC has never been committed to real and genuine “political inclusion” going back to its early experience with the UF in 1964-68. They hope history will not repeat itself.