Letter: Issues-based political support and voting are on the ascendency!

The content originally appeared on: INews Guyana
A poll place during the March 2, 2020 election in Guyana

Dear Editor,

When politically-aligned groups utilise incendiary rhetoric and make subliminal and even open calls for violence and revolution, such moves reflect desperation over their inability to secure state power through the ballot box. It also reveals a lack of vision, as well as their contempt for the democratic tradition of free and fair elections.

Every democratic society has become a marketplace of free ideas. Freedom of speech, buttressed by ready access to social media, has expanded the Guyanese people’s appetite for politics and world affairs. There are signs that Guyanese are moving, though not rapidly, towards an issues-oriented approach to politics, and are gradually discarding an emotion-driven-based political system.

The Amerindians had heavily supported the United Force, but have now moved progressively towards the PPP/C, and to a lesser extent the PNCR. The Amerindian-based GAP (Guyana Amerindian Party) and the LJP (Liberty and Justice Party) have not been able to secure a Parliamentary seat by themselves. The Amerindians voted on issues, rather than on race preference. To understand the significance of this situation, the Amerindians could theoretically secure six (6) Parliamentary seats if they vote according to race preference. Instead, they have been motivated by issues and promises.

The Amerindians have increasingly embraced the PPP/C because that party has been responding to their needs and fulfilling most of their promises, such as granting land titles, improving education and skills-set, modernising healthcare services, constructing core homes under IDB-funded SHHP, and job creation. The Mixed population, Chinese, Portuguese, and Whites are the independent voters who vote on issues. Combined with the Amerindians, these groups account for 30.9% of the population, and have the potential to elect 19 Members of Parliament. Thus, if any political party wants to secure state power, that party must embrace issues as central to their campaign, and rely less on race-based voting. Recent history also offers a guide.

At the 2011 regional and general elections, a substantial number of traditional PPP/C supporters (mostly Indo-Guyanese) voted across party lines for the APNU and AFC parties, based on issues and promises, and not on race preference. This resulted in the PPP/C losing its Parliamentary majority to the APNU+AFC parties. This trend of voting by a segment of traditional PPP/C voters continued on to 2015, when an estimated 11% of Indo-Guyanese cast their votes for the APNU+AFC coalition, which won state power. However, at the 2020 polls, most of those voters returned to the PPP/C because the coalition did not carry out its promises (closed the sugar estates, laid off 7,000 workers, failed to offer $9,000 per bag of paddy, etc.). Contrary to belief held by some political pundits, this example shows that PPP/C supporters understand the force of issues around which they could be mobilised. PNCR and other political leaders as well as their supporters could not afford to ignore this development, but to study it carefully in plotting their future political viability.

With no race group in the majority, securing state power has become extremely competitive, a process accentuated by the increasing emphasis on issues and the whittling away of race preference. But there are Opposition elements that do not seem to understand the nature of political evolution of Guyana, and still adhere to vile ideas of violence and revolution to secure state power. In addition, some political Opposition operatives cannot come to grips with their party’s loss of the 2020 regional and national elections, and continue their rumination. Beyond these, there have been repeated allegations of race discrimination and state murders perpetrated under the PPPP/C Government during the so-called “troubled period.” These allegations have been rejected by the PPP/C.

With respect to job discrimination, the reality is that 70% of Public Service workers are Afro-Guyanese, 90% of the army personnel are Afro-Guyanese, 75% of the Police Force are Afro- Guyanese, 70% of nurses are Afro-Guyanese, 65% of teachers are Afro-Guyanese, and 80% of the academic staff at the University of Guyana are Afro-Guyanese. The proportion of the Afro-Guyanese in the general population is 29%. How could anyone make out a compelling case for race discrimination, particularly institutional racism?

As to the killings, those were murders committed during the PPP/C’s governance in the early 2000s. The Stabroek News did an analysis of the murders and published the results for public consumption. First, not all the listed 420 persons killed were Black men; 119 were Indo-Guyanese. Second, many of those murders took place because of confrontation between the Police and criminal gangs; others were killed by gang members in gang warfare; many were killed during family/domestic problems; while a few were killed when they tried to topple the PPP/C Government. During the APNU+AFC regime (2015-2020), many more murders were recorded than during the troubled period. The PPP/C did not kill anyone. It is just like blaming the US President and the Democratic Party for all those murders committed in the inner cities.

Exploiting misleading, distorted and deceptive information to fuel violence and incendiary rhetoric has no place in civil society, and must be rejected by all peace-loving people. In a democratic system, there are socially acceptable ways to channel grievances. Under the “One Guyana” initiative, Guyanese must collectively continue to build upon its success, and should not allow any one person or group to derail the path to a good life for all, irrespective of race, religion, gender of disability. The ascendancy of issues in the political arena, and the corresponding relegation of race-based politics, should allow for the creation of a new culture of inclusivity and accountability. Guyana needs builders and not destroyers or detractors.