With elections in the air – this time by the shock no-confidence vote – the ethnic sentiments that act like magnets to polarise the populace, have returned with a vengeance. Coterminous with the introduction of modern electoral politics in 1953, voting became increasingly influenced by ethnicity. By the 1960s it was not a coincidence that elections became ethnic censuses. One of the dilemmas of democracy in Guyana, under our Westminster majoritarian/plurality rules is how to manage this now reflexive formation of ethnic “factions” to preclude real or perceived tyrannies of a winning majority group/faction.
After the Indian-dominated PPP’s massive victory in 1961, the then minority African/Coloured section had to deal with the possibility of being forever excluded from the Executive. This was the “African Ethnic Security Dilemma” in Guyana: if they played by the rules of democracy, they would be excluded from the Executive.
Democracy also presumes that the State will be managed for all the citizens of the country: the managers should be servants of the people. Hegel called them the “universal class”. If the staffing of the institutions of the state are controlled by any one “faction”, this presents another dilemma for democracy. Usually, the majority faction controls the Executive and the organs of state - and in fact this is what could produce the “tyranny of the majority”. However, if there are circumstances in which a minority has control of the state institutions, especially if these include the Armed Forces and the Civil Service and the Judiciary, then the will of the majority can also be denied, since the minority would calculate that they have the wherewithal to challenge the majority without state sanctions.
This was the situation in Guyana where the minority African section are vastly overrepresented in the key state institutions mentioned, especially in the Armed Forces. As predicted by us in 1993, because of this historically extant structural condition, the PNC and African Guyanese resisted their exclusion by parliamentary (1992-1997) and violent extra-parliamentary means - including armed rebellion - between 1998-2008. PNC leader Desmond Hoyte’s “kith and kin” call after losing the 1997 elections brutally exposed the “Indian Ethnic Security Dilemma”: even though they were the majority and under the Westminster system could form the Executive after “free-and-fair” elections, that Executive could not guarantee stability, especially for their supporters. Before taking any policy decision, the PPP - under the “Principle of Anticipated Reactions” - always had to consider whether the opposition would initiate violence, under cover of their control of State institutions. At the same time, their Indian supporters are under an omnipresent fear of being physically attacked, whenever the question of national power is contested, as at present. The fear was realised between 1998 and 2008 in a wave of politically inspired attacks on the State and Indian Guyanese citizens.
Sustained post-1980 migration of Indian Guyanese, exceeding that of African Guyanese, deepened the India Security Dilemma. The former’s numerical advantage was lost by 2000, with the 2012 census showed them dropping to 39.8%; African Guyanese 29.2%; Amerindian 10.5% and “Mixed” – which generally voted with African Guyanese – rising to 19.9%. The results of the 2015 elections confirmed the African Security Dilemma has been resolved, with the African/Mixed populations now 50% of the electorate. For insurance, the government is wooing the Amerindian population with the politics of patronage and is consequently very worried about Schuman’s new party.
The Indian Ethnic Security Dilemma, therefore, has now been exacerbated into a straight-out certain oppression of them as a minority group by a Government that combines the “authority” of electoral office combined with the “power” of supported by the Police, Army and the Civil Service. Even though the PPP was in office for 23 years and a Disciplined Forces Commission (DFC) - following the armed uprising against the state - recommended in 2004 that recruitment for the Disciplined Forces be structured to ensure its composition more broadly reflect the composition of the country - this was never implemented.
Instead, the present PNC-led Coalition government has moved to increase the numbers in the Disciplined Forces – including reintroducing a 1500-staffed Peoples Militia - with new recruits remain overwhelmingly drawn from the African Guyanese community, even though now President David Granger was a member of the DFC, that recommended ethnic representativeness.
The strident rhetoric by PNC leaders of a “coup d’état”, bribery; corruption and murder and racism by the PPP, is a narrative for retaining power by any means necessary. The oil funds add another powerful incentive.