What will change?

ROAR of Ravi Dev

What will change?
Photo : Ravi Dev

Once again, we are headed towards elections. But exactly what will that lead to if we haven’t addressed our fundamental ethnic security dilemmas, which prevent us from realising the fundamental premise of democracy: that the state be managed for all the people of the country. Those who manage the affairs of the State have to accept they are servants of the people. Hegel called them the “universal class”. If the staffing of the institutions of the state are in the control of any single “faction” of the society, this presents another dilemma for democracy.

In Guyana the African-Guyanese community has a vast overrepresentation in the key state institutions mentioned, especially in the Armed Forces, and has historically used this incumbency to neutralise the numerical advantage of Indian-Guyanese. This creates an Ethnic Security Dilemma for the latter since, even though they might secure a majority under the Westminster system and form the Executive after “free-and-fair” elections, that Executive cannot guarantee stability, especially for their supporters or for themselves. Any PPP government therefore has to always take into consideration, before taking any policy decision, as to whether the opposition will initiate violence, under cover of their control of state institutions.

Way back in 1963, the Secretary of the State for the Colonies succinctly stated the problem, after the leaders of the PPP, PNC and UF could not reach agreement on away forward on Constitutional measures following ethnic riots:

“…the Premier (Dr.Jagan) told me that, if the British troops were withdrawn, the situation would get completely out of control.

The root of the trouble lies entirely in the development of party politics along racial lines….Both parties (PPP and PNC) have, for their political ends, fanned the racial emotions of their followers, with the result that each has come to be regarded as the champion of one race and the enemy of the other.

The Africans accuse the Government party of governing in the interests only of the Indians, and demand a share in political decisions. On the other side, the Indians accuse the Police, which is mainly African, of partiality towards the Africans and demand the creation of a separate defence force, recruited more extensively from the Indian community, to counterbalance the Police.”

In its proposals, the British pointed out there was the need, in general, “to protect minorities” and in particular, to address “the racial nature of the problem”. For the latter problem, “the Government should endeavour to rule with the general consent of the population …(and a new armed force) …should be constituted before independence by the Governor, who would endeavour to ensure that recruits were not drawn predominantly from any one racial group.”  The British recognised that under present conditions, neither the PPP and PNC would be able “to increase appreciably its following among the other racial groups.”

They then submitted, “…it must be our deliberate aim to stimulate a radical change in the present pattern of racial alignments. It was therefore my duty to choose the electoral system which would be most likely to encourage inter-party coalitions and multi-racial groupings”. Finally, they concluded, “proportional representation would be likely to result in the formation of a coalition government of parties supported by different races, and that this would go some way towards reducing the present tension.” (7)

Sadly, while the British had a very good diagnosis of what ailed Guyana, their proposals were fatally flawed since the racially balanced proto-Army SSU formed by the Governor, was soon dismantled by Burnham. PR on its own, was simply a device to allow the PNC and the UF to coalesce and elbow out the PPP.

As a consequence of the “Mexican stand-off” over the last half-a-century, Guyanese politics has become so divisive that today, even with oil in the offing, we remain of the precipice of becoming a failed state. During their twenty-three years at the helm, the PPP did not address the need for creating that “universal class” to run state institutions: they were paralysed by the “principle of anticipated reactions” from the PNC-bolstered coercive forces and bureaucracy. They attempted to work out a modus vivendi with those forces by co-opting some in leadership, but this just weakened the state.

Today, the PNC under Brigadier (rtd) David Granger, had taken personal total control of the bolstered army, police and bureaucracy to perpetuate the ethnic security dilemma of Indian Guyanese. What will elections change?