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Devoid of trust, ‘power sharing’ remains elusive

Dear Editor,
THE APNU-aligned party’s political ideologue Dr Henry Jeffrey has seized upon the Report (6/1/2023) of the “European Union (EU) Elections Follow-up Mission” on Guyana to castigate the PPP/C for not implementing most of the 26 reform recommendations, while asserting that APNU accepts all the recommendations.

He accuses the PPP/C government of making unilateral changes in the electoral process and says that at a minimum, the EU’s recommendation of “re-registering all voters in Guyana” should be implemented.
Notwithstanding the High Court’s ruling in 2019 that residency cannot disqualify an individual as a voter, Dr Jeffrey still argues for the disenfranchisement of non-resident Guyanese.

He must know that the removal of the names of persons alive from the voters’ list could only be done through a constitutional-amendment process. Are the Guyanese people prepared to allow this to happen?
Dr Jeffrey highlights four of the EU’s recommendations that require urgent attention: to prohibit state resources for use in political campaigning; (2) regulate political campaign finance; (3) make state-owned media into a public service provider, and (4) establish an election-dispute resolution system.

If these changes are deemed necessary, what prevents APNU from filing a motion or tabling a bill to have these issues debated for their viability?

While Dr Jeffrey agrees that most of the 26 recommendations to eliminate electoral flaws could materialise at the administrative level, he could not obscure his higher calling, that is, his firm belief that the solution to nagging political problems of discrimination, poverty, and income inequality lies in executive power sharing.

Even with the elimination or mitigation of electoral flaws, he fears that the society would remain ethnically polarised with one segment of the population (represented by APNU) excluded from executive power. Dr Jeffrey must know that APNU members already occupy all layers of power in the state bureaucracy, except at the ministerial level.

He believes (and wrongly) that the perceived ethnically polarised society could only be healed through executive power sharing, which is seemingly tantalising at the theoretical level, is nevertheless filled with problems at the practicable level. Neither history nor logic supports ministerial power sharing.

Fundamentally, how could there be ministerial power sharing when (1) the philosophy of the PPP/C and APNU are incompatible; and (2) when the level of trust between the two parties is low or non-existent? Let us see what history has to say about this!
In February 1964, “ministerial power-sharing talks between the PPP and the PNC collapsed over the allocation of ministerial portfolios such as Home Affairs. Dr Jagan tried again in June 1964 when he invited PNC’s Leader Mr. Burnham to join the PPP in a coalition government. That effort also fell apart.” (The West on Trial).

Another compelling example relates to the Esther Pereira case. Prior to the December 1997 National and Regional elections, the PPP/C and the PNCR agreed that the “Voter Identification Card” (VIC) must be used as the requirement to determine voter eligibility.

They passed the Election (Amendment) Law 22 of 1997 to this effect. However, after the PNCR lost the 1997 elections, they recanted their position and filed a petition challenging the constitutionality of the VIC.

The High Court agreed with the PNCR and voided the 1997 elections. This monumental whittling of trust not only rattled the PPP/C, but also cut short by one ¾ years their term in office. At the direction of the High Court, new general and regional elections were held in March 2001 which were won by the PPP/C.

Apart from trust and differing philosophies, Dr Jeffrey has raised another hurdle of political legitimacy. He refers to the PPP/C government as “one of questionable validity,” and this also finds expression in Mr. Aubrey Norton’s claim that the President was “installed.”

This level of caustic rhetoric is a deterrence to constructive engagement between the two political parties.
It is astonishing that they hold tenaciously onto this bizarre position, even though CARICOM, the Commonwealth, all Local and Foreign Election Observer Missions, all Western Diplomatic Missions, and 100 countries acknowledge the PPP/C’s victory.
Finally, why majoritarianism has not worked well for Guyana in the past was partly a function of politicians’ passion for personal glory and hardly had anything to do with institutional deficiencies (whether real or perceived).

The Guyana political landscape has been altered markedly with the advent and impact of social media on political behaviour.
Electors are becoming smarter and showing readiness to embrace issues and loosen their grip on racism.

In the existing highly competitive political environment, a political party that reaches across race boundaries with cutting issues as its core messages would have a major electoral advantage. This (issue-based politics) is the direction for growth of all political parties.
Yours respectfully,
Dr Tara Singh