As the elections draw closer, as usual, our two major polarised ethnic groups are acting like magnetic poles dragging the society into one or the other camp. In the classic Liberal polity, supposedly rational individuals engage in a variety of roles and belong to a multitude of organisations and groups whose several interests are cross cutting. The individual, in his political role as a voter, therefore, makes a “rational” choice based on the position a given party takes on the issues before the electorate. Even if all voters do not conform to this ideal, there are enough who do, to constitute a pool of “swing” votes in the middle for which all parties compete. This situation creates a centripetal moderating effect and the parties line up on a continuum on the issues. We have the politics of “in and out”.
The party system in a divided society like ours operates on totally different basis. Here, the individual is a member of groups, which instead of diffusing the cleavages, act to reinforce them. They will generally attend different places of worship, occupy different occupational niches, and have different modes of recreation. The “broker institutions” that each group participates in, and which represents him in the larger society, are also ethnically based trade unions, political parties etc. Political affiliation, is thus not based on the party’s position on a variety of issues, but generally on one issue: which groups’ interest does the particular party represent? Party membership is generally inscriptive, where individuals perceive their fate in ethnic, rather than individual or class terms.
For the longest while, the PPP and the PNC have been attempting to be seen as “multi-ethnic/multiracial. However, working against such parties is the existence of “flank” parties or groups. These are found within every ethnic group and take positions which can be considered “extreme” in favour of their given group. The major “multi-ethnic” party are forced to respond to their demands so as not to lose core support. Since the demands of these flank parties are invariably particularistic and in opposition to the “out” group, the major parties move away from the centre as they respond.
In 2015, I thought the PNC made an important concession when they courted the AFC for the latter’s Indian-Guyanese supporters. But rather than moving towards the centre and addressing concerns of “both sides”, the PNC simply shrugged and let that promise fall, while the AFC recoiled from any advocacy for Indian-Guyanese issues. In the meantime, the rump WPA, which had merged with the PNC as “APNU”, abandoned Rodney’s signal multiracial stance as its remaining members played leading roles in organisations that flanked the PNC from an Afro-centric perspective: Cuffy 250; ACDA; Buxton First of August Movement (BFAM) etc.
I was rather bemused when I read my friend David Hinds asserting on behalf of the WPA, “We would argue that if any group should complain that Government has not put particular attention to them, it is African Guyanese… but it has shown that Government does not have ethnic preference”. What about, for instance, the $2.8B programme to develop the farming lands behind the African-dominated villages of Buxton, BV, Ithaca and Mocha?
“The monies would be used to buy farming equipment that will remain in the identified communities, finance land clearing, restore and upgrade drainage and irrigation canals, install a pump in each of the farming communities and provide technical support for targeted farmers. Planners expect that 155 kilometres of canals and drains and 40 kilometres of fair weather dam would be constructed and one pump station would be provided to enable farmers to reclaim 2,500 acres of abandoned land. There would be market-driven approach to match demand for high quality produce in Caricom countries while the second and third best would be processed into value added products”.
Or what about the 90% Afro-recruits to the Public Service College; thousands trained for jobs; given scholarships; facilitated in business; 16 out of 17 Permanent Secretaries; Ministers, Heads of Dept; Boards membership; IDPAD initiative; housing schemes; augmented Disciplined Forces? etc
But what took the cake was David claiming the PNC Government “was careful not to throw Indian Guyanese under the bus”. That’s cold. Apart from shuttering sugar, why not an agricultural plan like the above for the fired workers, using some abandoned cane land?
Or at least subsidise their electricity bills?