The recent unprecedented events in Guyana following the shock vote of former Government Member of Parliament Charrandas Persaud, siding with the Opposition in toppling the coalition Government via a no-confidence motion, has once again brought the minor coalition partner – the Alliance For Change (AFC) – under the spotlight, more particularly its ability to deliver what the A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) wants in the context of a shared political arrangement.
When the AFC was formed some years ago, there was much hope and goodwill enveloping it. Many people regarded it as a breath of fresh air in Guyanese politics and thought it would have ended up being a very powerful and influential third force that would hold the balance between the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) and the People’s National Congress (PNC).
Party leaders had committed that once the party gains political power, they would work hard to excise corruption, improve transparency and institute greater accountability, all premised on the pillar of strong institutions.
Accordingly, when the AFC was launched, unlike other parties which had to do hard and time-consuming work in establishing themselves, the AFC immediately had a ready-made constituency. And unlike other parties which contested elections for the first time, the party won a respectable number of seats in the 2011 General and Regional Elections.
Then came the 2015 elections and despite the PNC’s pressure on them to join the coalition of political parties which it was establishing to contest with the PPP, the AFC, unlike the Working People’s Alliance and other political parties, held out and was able to negotiate on equal terms with the PNC, securing the Cummingsburg Accord which gave them a respectable power-sharing agreement whereby they would secure a number of Ministerial appointments and political sway in the Cabinet.
Sadly, after the 2015 Elections, when it seemed that the AFC was about to become a determining force in Guyanese politics, the AFC’s feet of clay was suddenly exposed to the world: The PNC reneged on the Cummingsburg Accord and took away much of what had been bargained for. The AFC did nothing, not even made a credible protest, and indeed, one or two of their leaders actually agreed with the PNC’s action. Some supporters of the party quietly fell away at this unprincipled lack of courage on the part of their leaders.
Another major cause for concern which resulted in the party losing support was the party’s deafening silence in the many cases of blatant corruption since the coalition Government took office. Over the past three years or so, there have been several scandals and poor policy decisions made by the coalition – the infamous drugs bond scandal, the D’Urban Park project, the awarding of scholarships, the contract for the Demerara Harbour Bridge feasibility study, the embroglio surrounding the appointment of the new Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) Chairman, Minister Volda Lawrence’s controversial remarks about giving jobs to “PNC people only” and the wanton closure of sugar estates which resulted in thousands of persons being placed on the breadline etc. The leadership of the AFC remained silent and appeared to be complicit in most of these cases.
In justifying his ‘conscience vote’, Persaud raised some of these very issues which caused him to support the no-confidence motion. As a party which claims that it is serious about practicing good governance, the AFC should have committed to addressing the issues raised by the former MP as against castigating him and labelling his action as an “attack” on the party’s leadership.
Many are of the view that based on its actions, and in some cases inaction, the AFC is doing the opposite of what was promised when the party was first formed. The 2018 Local Government Elections was the first real test of the strength of the party and the results of those elections proved to be very disappointing indeed as it is now clear that the party has lost significant support in some areas it once contested.
In the words of one of its Executive Members, the party is now “dead meat” and has left an unpalatable taste in the proverbial mouths of Guyanese who entrusted them with their votes. Considering the recent turn of events, the party’s leadership may want to consider going back to the drawing board and re-think where it is at the moment and where it wants to be in the coming years. To begin with, it must not shut out dissenting views; it must listen to its membership and take their concerns seriously since not doing so may be to its own detriment as was evident in last Friday’s no-confidence vote.