PPP Should Embrace Coalition Politics
Photo : Bharrat Jagdeo
Some writers feel Guyana’s current Burnham constitution does not allow for pre or post-election coalition. The fact is that the fraudulent Burnham constitution does not address the issue of coalition politics. Coalitions are allowed as indeed has been used by PPP in its Civic appendage and the PNC-AFC alliance. But the Civic component in reality does not exist. If the PPP is to improve its chances at the next election, coalition with other forces is the way to go.
In all politics, coalition formation is allowed and has been utilized in countless countries including advanced democracies like India, UK, Israel, Italy, Germany, France, etc. In the Guyana constitutional setting, because the party or alliance that wins the most votes forms the government, there is/was scope for a creative and novel idea of a pre-election and or post-election coalition. It is just that the PPP opted not to form a coalition in 2011when it was most critical in government survival. Because of that blunder, it is not clear the party can make an electoral comeback as measures are being put in place to return to election rigging as happened under the PNC between 1966 and 1992. The PNC and AFC have learned from the PPP’s failure at embracing coalition politics and is now in office to the detriment of PPP.
The PNC, WPA, JFA and other minor parties formed an alliance (APNU) and contested the 2011 elections. The PPP won the most votes and formed a minority government (32 out of 65 seats). Recognizing they can’t win an election on their own, the APNU (PNC really since the other parties have virtually no support) and AFC formed an alliance or coalition with agreed upon terms and conditions (with regards to policies and programs and distribution of seats and cabinet posts, etc.) in contesting the 2015 elections. The coalition was successful in removing the incumbent PPP from office although many of the agreed upon terms and conditions were not enforced because the AFC has not insisted on their implementation. In coalition politics, the partners depend on each other; one cannot bully the other; they must stick to the conditions if the coalition is to survive. When the partners violated the terms, the coalition collapses as happened in Israel, Italy, etc. Since the PNC needs the AFC more than the AFC needs the PNC, AFC should have insisted on implementation of the conditions (honouring the agreement) – it would have gotten its way and Guyana would have been a much better place today -- free from the many blunders of the PNC dominated government.
Relating to the hung parliamentary outcome of the 2011 election, there was nothing precluding the formation of an alliance between the PPP and another party. The PPP unwisely decided it would not share power and paid a heavy price. The PPP needed support for passage of bills and the budget. It should have formed an alliance with either the AFC or APNU or even a national unity government of all three parties. The PPP was advised behind the scenes to form an alliance with AFC; some among the AFC MPs privately urged such coalition government formation. Several people served as go between (individuals in AFC and PPP). Individuals in the AFC did not ask for much in exchange for their support to pass legislation. But the PPP expressed no interest. It was stubborn; it was all (power) or nothing – complete control. Well it has nothing now, out of government and perhaps so for a long time unless it seriously think about embracing other opposition parties. A smart politician would have formed a coalition post -2011 election as David Cameron (Tory) and Nick Clegg (Liberal Dems) did in UK in 2010 and as Theresa May is doing now in UK. Basdeo Panday formed a coalition in Trinidad in 1995 surviving the entire term and winning re-election on its own. Angela Merkel in Germany, has been governing with a coalition and so did Manmohan Singh in India, and indeed as has been taking place in so many countries. As they learned, when you have a majority, power base is secure. But you have to be willing to share power with others willing to assist you. A good political leader is pragmatic when it comes to power – do what is necessary to remain in office to represent your constituency. That leadership skill was not amply demonstrated by Donald Ramotar.
The hubristic PPP felt it was cheated in the 2011 elections and would have won a majority seats without fraud. So it was not interested in any coalition politics. In addition, it wanted nothing to do with Khemraj Ramjattan who was expelled in 2005 and or Moses Nagamootoo, who defected from PPP into the AFC in 2011, and who was largely responsible for the AFC winning seven seats (from among Indian voters) and denying the PPP its majority. A problem with PPP is once you leave or critique the party you are no longer welcome, and such a hardline attitude is responsible for many of its problems. Had the PPP been willing to engage the AFC, it would have remained in government at least through 2016 if not longer.
One-party-majoritarian politics cannot work in multi-ethnic Guyana; parties must be prepared to share power. And the PPP was so advised by social science intellectuals, including those of us who fought for fair elections. But there was/is hardly any taker in the party and that is why the party finds itself in its present precarious position.
Mr Persaud is right in stating that the PPP leadership is not interested in constitutional reform because they operate (as a group think) under the mistaken belief that the party will win the next election and as such enjoy the absolute powers enshrined in the constitution. That is a risky thought and position. In political science, I learn half a loaf is better than none. In elections, outcomes are not guaranteed as the PPP found in 2011 and 2015 and as Prime Minister May found in UK. It is better to share power (engage in coalition or unity government) rather than be completely out of power. If nothing else, the PPP should have learned that basic lesson from the last two elections. Those who support the present constitution or are opposed to coalition politics or reforms are not political science scholars who have studied ethnic politics. They don't understand the implications of their position – bad governance, violence, etc. Had they studied ethnic politics worldwide, they would think differently. The Burnham constitution is not good for Guyana. There is nothing democratic about it. It was not even approved in a democratic referendum. It must be dumped.
The constitution needs to be changed to allow for national government formation among all parties that win seats as happened in South Africa in 1993/4. And it should be done now. But none of the parties, save WPA and URP, is genuinely interested in constitutional reform. All expect to win alone and govern alone. Thus, they are not interested in national unity government. They talk unity but act in contradiction.
In all fairness to Dr Jagdeo, while he favours the Burnham constitution, he also stated publicly in NY, he will embrace all opposition and civic groups willing to work with him. But he has not stated the terms and conditions for such engagement or alliance. Nevertheless, he is signalling a willingness to engage in some kind of coalition politics. This is quite different from the position of his predecessor and the tact adopted by the PPP prior to the 2015 election that cost it the government.
If the PPP is to improve its chances at the next election, it must engage all political and civic groups and even form an alliance and change its attitude about coalition politics. The PPP must show it has completely reformed itself from its old political thought and is willing to work with all for improvement of Guyana. Coalition partners will help to guard against electoral banditry which has been a problem in Guyana in all elections.