The Anatomy of Power in Guyana (Pt 1)

ROAR of Ravi Dev (There is talk of the PPP “returning to power” after the next elections. The following was written a year after the 1992 elections. Have the dynamics changed?)

The Anatomy of Power in Guyana (Pt 1)
Photo : Ravi Dev

For most men perception is reality, but because perceptions are often distorted, the actions that flow from them are consequently misguided. After the (1992) General elections, there is a widespread perception that the PPP has “power” in Guyana, and because the PPP is an Indian-dominated party, that Indians also have “power”. Even many Indians hold this view but what is the reality? For us to have a discussion, we first have to agree as to what we mean by this word “power”.

Political scientists and other interested social scientists have had a veritable linguistic orgy in trying to pin down a working definition of this slippery concept. I have no desire to enter this morass and for this discussion will simply stipulate that a person or group has “power” when that person or group can make a decision which affects other persons or groups and the latter have to go along with the decision even though it may be against their interests. Power thus implies, simultaneously, a relationship (another person has to be affected) and a possession since the power holder has to control certain resources (sanctions or inducements), which he can bring to bear on others to ensure compliance. For Guyanese, therefore, the question is whether in the relationship between the PPP government and the populace, does the PPP have the resources to enforce compliance with its decisions and initiatives, or are these in the hands of others?

At this point we have to distinguish between the state and the government. The former represents the full panoply of the power institutions in a country and has the ultimate resort of force to ensure compliance with its policies. The Government, (and this is what the PPP now occupies), is simply that aspect of the state that initiates policies, which the other arms of the state such as the army, the police, the judiciary and the bureaucracy etc. are supposed to implement. In a word, the government has formal authority and has power only to the extent that these other arms recognise the legitimacy of its directives and act to ensure compliance.

Consequently, real power lays with those who control these other arms of the state; as many a junior officer in several third world states have demonstrated. The answer to the question posed earlier, (as to whether the PPP possesses real power) lies, and then, in discerning whether the other state arms accept the government as legitimate. Only time will tell of course, but the eight percent vote of the Disciplined Forces for the PPP, (which is the approximate number of Indians in the Forces) is not a good portent, since the opposition PNC received the remaining ninety two percent. The Judiciary, through attrition and PNC’s pressures and machinations during its dictatorship, while attempting to maintain some semblance of impartiality has also wavered. The Bureaucracy (Civil Service etc) is more overwhelmingly pro-PNC.

Most of these state institutions are predominantly African dominated as a result of historical and recent PNC discriminations. While there have been no polls on the subject in Guyana, in neighbouring Trinidad, where there is a similar population mix and perceptions, several SARA polls, conducted by Prof. Selwyn Ryan have shown that people of African origin do not view Indian citizens as legitimate aspirants and holders of national power.

In addition to the army, police, bureaucracy etc, certain groups within a society can have “disruptive power”. By this is meant the recognition by any Government of the day of the potential or likelihood of particular groups looting, burning and committing general mayhem. In Guyana, Indians have been noticeably passive in this respect, while in the sixties and earlier this year, Africans, especially in their strategically controlled Georgetown, demonstrated their disruptive power. By the impressively titled “rule of anticipated reactions”, the PPP has had to take into consideration the reactions of all the above-mentioned groups, before it makes any policy initiatives.

By tailoring its policies depending on its reading of the reactions of these other groups, the PPP demonstrates conclusively, that these groups have real power rather than itself.