Coalitions in Guyana and T&T

Coalitions in Guyana and T&T

Photo : Ravi Dev

With some cracks appearing in the coalition that constitutes APNU, even after the one between APNU+ AFC were papered over, the merits and demerits of coalitions in Guyanese politics have risen to the fore. The attitudes of the leaders are critical in the formation of coalitions: if they are concerned with only winning elections for personal gains and power, then the risks they will be prepared to take for real change that will redound to the benefit of Guyana, will be minimal.

In modern Guyanese political history, the coalition that has defined the device, apparently for all times, was that made by the PNC and the UF in December 1964, which removed the PPP from office. They were strange bedfellows, driven by one consideration – to form a government that would keep out the PPP and this arrangement of expediency demonstrates the pitfalls of what has been labelled, the “coalition of convenience”. We are presently dealing with two such coalitions - APNU and APNU+AFC. Coalitions of this type are very unstable and few survive their term of government for several reasons. Firstly, their focus is totally electoral – adding up seats – while ignoring the cleavages and forces that made them form separate parties and run on separate platforms, in the first place. These differences inevitably surface later when policies and programs are formulated and implemented, or more usually when spoiled are divvied up.

Secondly, there is the disproportion of size. The larger party sees itself as the senior member to which the smaller should defer; while the latter considers itself as an equal due to its strategic position in “tipping the balance”. This is the dynamic pushing the fissures within the APNU and the APNU+AFC coalitions. Thirdly, since the capture of power was their prime motivator, they constantly manoeuvre to monopolise the same, using bribery, defections, etc. many believe that several high-ranking members of the AFC have already been seduced by the PNC - as evidently has Rupert Roopnarine of the WPA.

Coalitions of convenience are to be avoided, since the cynicism that attends their birth ensures them an early, acrimonious death. The coalition between the PNC and the UF broke down within two years of its formation as Mr Burnham enticed members of the UF (as well as the PPP) to cross the floor to create a moot situation when by 1967, with the PNC showing clearly that it was going to rig the next elections and rid itself of its erstwhile partner, Peter D’Aguiar, the UF leader left the coalition but could not bring down the government.

It appears with the PNC holding all the cards right now in the present coalition history will repeat itself in 2020. The WPA has nowhere to go and the AFC leadership know their leadership and base have both been degutted - the first by the PNC and the second by their own unwillingness to stick to their guns and insist on the Cummingsburg Accord be honoured.

For stable coalitions, in addition to the structural prerequisites, there must be a high level of trust, arising from an intimacy of relations between the leaders. While this might be high within the APNU coalition of the PNC and the five micro parties, that of the APNU+AFC coalition is much more tenuous. .A more fundamental ground of instability of coalition building in the southern British Caribbean, however, is also in play: each party to the coalition must also be seen as legitimate aspirants to national power.

The descendants of freed Africans define the Caribbean as an “African” nation and the descendants of Indian indentures are not seen as totally legitimate contenders for national power. This is not to say that non-Africans may not be voted in as leaders (such as Seaga in Jamaica or Price in Belize) but they cannot be leaders of groups that effectively challenge African-dominated parties for power. During the throes of the PCD collapse in Guyana, one initiative led by prominent civic leaders objected to Dr Jagan as leader specifically on the ground that an “Indian” was not acceptable. This was also the situation during the NAR government in T&T in the 1980’s.

Not much has changed for Indian-based parties - in or out of office.