Mr. Ramkarran’s article is a testimonial straight out of Freedom House’s handbook
May 14, 2009 | By knews | Filed Under Letters
The Honourable Speaker of Guyana’s National Assembly, Mr. Ralph Ramkarran, is one of a handful PPP leaders who has steered clear of unnecessary partisanship.
But his recent article on the demerits of power sharing, “You cannot expect marriage without courtship,” (Guyana Chronicle, May 6, 2009), is a testimonial straight out of Freedom House’s handbook.
Generally the article offers nothing different from the standard PPP post-1992 rejection of its own pre-1992 position on power sharing.
One is, therefore, tempted to dismiss it as yet another attempt by the PPP to justify its bizarre betrayal of the movement for national reconciliation, which many of us envisaged as a necessary end product of the struggle to dismantle the authoritarian government that evolved between the 1970s and 1992.
But national reconciliation is too pivotal to the existence of Guyana as a viable state and cohesive nation to be ignored simply because of the PPP’s shortsightedness and, perhaps, vindictiveness.
So here goes. Mr. Ramkarran, in classic partisan mode, begins his article with a dangerous manipulation of history.
He places the beginning of the “advancement” of power sharing “shortly after Guyana returned to democracy in 1992.” My sense is that Mr. Ramkarran knows better, so what follows is not directed at him.
Any careful perusal of Guyana’s political history will show that the first public proposal of a power sharing government was advanced in 1961 by Eusi Kwayana, then Sydney King, on behalf of the African Society for Racial Equality (ASRE).
The proposal for a joint premiership between the leaders of the PPP and the PNC was put forward as a just solution to the ethnic polarization that followed the 1955 split of the original PPP.
Partition, which Kwayana personally did not favour, was also suggested as a last resort if joint premiership did not materialise. Both the PPP and the PNC rejected joint premiership and instead made partition the central issue.
Two years later, as ethnic violence increased, Dr. Jagan and the PPP proposed a coalition government with the PNC.
Although they did not call it “power sharing,” it at least had the markings of a shared government.
In 1977 the PPP, of which Mr. Ramkarran was a member, proposed a National Patriotic Font between the PPP and the PNC in which the two parties were to have shared the government on an equal basis.
The proposal got nowhere because the PNC poured scorn on it.
Then in 1979 the newly-formed WPA proposed a Government of National Unity and Reconstruction, which was embraced in principle by the PPP.
The two parties differed over the inclusion of the PNC in the government – the PPP wanted the PNC in while the WPA wanted the PNC out - and the proportion of seats the WPA allocated to the then Vanguard for the Liberation of Democracy (VLD).
In 1985 the PNC and PPP began talks towards the establishment of a power sharing government. This initiative by the PNC, which is documented in a book by Mr. Halim Majeed, a PNC participant at the talks, went further than the previous ones largely because for the first time both parties were sufficiently keen on it.
The talks were scuttled by Mr. Hoyte after he succeeded Mr. Burnham as leader of the PNC and President of Guyana.
By 1988 Dr. Jagan was assuring all who wanted to hear that the PPP would not pursue a winner take all government should it win the imminent free and fair election.
The PPP worked feverishly with its allies in the PCD to achieve a power sharing arrangement which eventually did not materialize due to the convergence of several factors.
In 1990 the WPA again proposed a Government of National Unity to govern the country between 1990 and the time of new election - elections which were due in 1990 could not be held because the negotiations for a transition to free and fair elections could not be concluded in time.
The PNC was open to such a government but alas the PPP rejected the idea.
It is at this point that I suspect Mr. Ramkarran begins his history of power sharing in Guyana. Since he cannot be unaware of the history I outlined above, there has to be some other reason(s) for this omission.
Why does he ignore the PPP’s past embrace of power sharing without “courtship?” Why has the PPP flipped its stance on power sharing since 1992?
Why does Mr. Ramkarran mention ROAR, WPA and Eric Phillips as supporters of power sharing and not the PPP? There are several possible answers, but out of respect for the Honourable Speaker, I will not “put word in his mouth.”
Mr. Ramkarran pins power sharing on Mr. Eric Phillips who has in recent years been a lone-soldier on this issue. But he pins it in a negative way, almost an insinuation that Phillips is an ultra militant who simply hates the PPP.
Let me, out of solidarity with Eric Phillips and true to my own perspective on governance and politics in Guyana, hereby declare that I too believe that power sharing is a fundamental right of each ethnic group in Guyana.
In ethnic societies fundamental rights have to be seen in both individual and group terms. This is a central point in the much discussed recent UN report on Guyana. If government and governance are rights and not privileges, all citizens have a right to share in their execution, evolution and deliberations and should not be barred intentionally or through institutional mechanisms. When democracy, through its rules and institutions, structurally excludes groups from meaningful participation it ceases to be democracy. In ethnic societies democracy cannot simply be majoritarian democracy; such majoritarianism has to be grounded in ethnic justice.
Let me now address Mr. Ramkarran’s claim that the PPP’s victories since 1992 have been premised largely or at least partly on the party’s ability to garner cross-over votes. I am not disputing that some African-Guyanese have voted for the PPP.
I also know Indian Guyanese who have voted for the PNC and the AFC. My problem with Mr. Ramkarran’s formulation is that he equates “proportion of population” with “proportion of electorate.” And “proportion of votes cast.”
This math holds that if Indian Guyanese make up 40 percent of the population and the PPP wins 54 percent of the vote, then if all Indians vote for the PPP it means the PPP had to have won 14 percent of its votes from other ethnic groups.
Well with all due respect to Mr. Ramkarran, that’s not how it works. First, the potential electorate is only part of the general population - it is those citizens 18 years and older. But it does not stop there - the potential voters have to vote on election-day.
By the time we get to that point the ethnic breakdown would have undergone significant changes.
It is no secret that some groups register and vote in larger numbers than others; hence they represent a larger proportion of the voters on election-day than of the population at large.
The other factor Mr. Ramkarran points to is the “mixed” section of the population. Who are they? Are they mixed-Indian or mixed-African?
I have concluded that the PPP’s changed attitude to power sharing as a necessary step in the direction of national reconciliation is grounded in that party’s understandable feeling of denial and exclusion at the hands of the PNC in conjunction with foreign forces. Such denial and exclusion cannot be denied.
But if one chooses to correct “undemocratic denial and exclusion” with “democratic denial and exclusion,” one ends up perpetuating the very thing one sets out to correct.
What continues to sadden me is the PPP’s insensitivity to the ethnic/racial consequences of its strategies and tactics. Even if the PPP were innocent of ethnic/racial intent, it is patently guilty of ignoring the dangerous consequences of its actions.
The PPP seems bent on punishing the PNC without due consideration for the negative effects on the African Guyanese population and the ultimate consequences for Indian Guyanese and the country. Two wrongs never amount one right.
Mr. Ramkarran’s and the PPP’s position that winning a few hundred African votes makes the PPP a national government and a national party is at best simplistic, delusional or disingenuous.
The simple truth is that the vast majority of African Guyanese do not want the PPP to represent their group or individual interests and the vast majority of Indian Guyanese do not want the PNC to represent their group or individual interests.
Mr. Ramkarran, as the holder of an impartial office, should be cognizant of the complexities of the Guyanese problem and avoid as much as possible advocating the PPP partisan line on such a sensitive issue.
Whether the PPP realises it or not, its stance on power sharing has become synonymous with African Guyanese civil rights and justice and Indian Guyanese injustice.
Given Mr. Ramkarran’s recent stance he should not be surprised if some African Guyanese reason that if he, a moderate PPP leader, cannot see the light, then there is little hope for national reconciliation. If the PPP can marry the PNC without courtship on the issues of MPs crossing the floor and the EPA, then why is courtship necessary for more important matters?
You don’t build trust by exclusion; you do so by meaningful inclusion based on recognition that all groups have an inalienable right to the political and economic resources in their country.
To suggest to Africans that they have to cross over to the PPP before they can enjoy those rights is disrespectful and racist.
I have said before that while I am a strong supporter of power sharing, it is not the best solution or the only alternative.
But it has emerged as the most viable alternative in ethnically divided societies largely because the winner-take-all system and the integrative model, which Mr. Ramkarran and the PPP opportunistically favour, have not worked.
Mr. Ramkarran erroneously suggests that power sharing has failed in Kenya and Zimbabwe. It has just started. Yes there are difficulties — why not? But they are working it out.
Power sharing does not mean the end of party rivalry or the end of opposition — it is the context that changes.
The longer ethnically divided countries wait before moving to some form of power sharing, the more difficult the period of reconciliation.