Our October Revolution?
October 7, 2009 | By knews | Filed Under Editorial
October 5 is a historic day for Guyana; occasioned by the General Elections of 1992 that were held on that date. Previous elections - from 1968 - had been described in terms ranging from “manipulated” to “crooked as barbed wire”.
The “free and fair” elections of 1992 had been the culmination of sustained and wide-ranging efforts waged by Guyanese at home and in the wider Diaspora. There were great hopes aroused that Guyana, now freed of the shackles that had doomed it an ever-downward spiral of poverty and desperation, would now flourish.
Some even called it our “October Revolution”, in a self-conscious reference to the 1917 great Russian event.
But the voting patterns of the 1992 elections should have been a tip-off that the clean and decisive break from the past encapsulated by the tem “revolution” was very optimistic, to say the least. The vote was split along the race/ethnic fault lines not much different from that which had prevailed in the last previous elections of 1964.
Even after the tremendous suffering and deprivation all Guyanese had experienced over the preceding two decades under the PNC, that party actually increased its percentage of votes garnered in 1992- 44 per cent - from the 41 per cent in 1964. It should have been obvious that great ingenuity was going to be demanded from the new PPP/C regime to prevent the stubborn ethnic divisions from playing its old stultifying role.
If October 5 was going to mark a “revolution”, the necessary dramatic changes laid in the future.
Seventeen years on, the question for us is, “Have those changes been consummated?” While there has been very visible progress on many fronts, after reviewing the evidence in the political realm, it would be an exercise in hyperbole to answer in the affirmative. The ethnic albatross is still very much on the neck of the Guyanese nation.
The consequences of entrenched ethnic voting pattern in denying society-wide legitimacy for governments voted into office by the rules of the (political) game has spurred the creation of a plethora of proposals to handle the contradiction.
A decade ago, violent protests precipitated extensive constitutional changes, arrived at after countrywide consultations, that were supposed to “fix” the problem. A constitution, after all, not only allocates authoritative power in a country but spells out the rules for acquiring that power.
But very quickly, some, including the opposition that had clamored and fought for the constitutional changes, decided that the 2000 amendments did not go far enough. They were not revolutionary.
One reason for the volte face was that in the 1999 protests, the major stumbling block to peace and prosperity in Guyana had been identified primarily as “the overweening powers of the Presidency” and not the ethnic albatross. It ought not to have surprised anyone that even after the objected-to powers had been severely truncated, dissatisfaction remained rife. The symptoms, and not the cause, of the dissatisfactions had been addressed.
Interestingly enough, there has been a long tradition in the local political culture in calling for “Governments of National Reconciliation” or other such “Shared Governance” models that purported to confront the need for governments that commanded wider legitimacy. But the incumbent party in power, not surprisingly, is never too enthusiastic about such “revolutionary” changes: it quickly forgets its rhetoric (which it always was, evidently) when they were in opposition.
Of recent, there has been some discussion in the press of the implications on the electoral system (and inter alia, the legitimacy of the government it delivers) of the changing demographics of in the country.
We are now assured that we have become a “nation of minorities” and that this fact alone will ensure that since parties will have to look beyond any one ethnic bloc to be catapulted into office, they will adopt “national” positions that will gain the requisite wider legitimacy for future governments. The “revolution” in other words, had taken place quietly on its own.
We are not entirely convinced but are heartened that we have not stopped looking for peaceful ways to get rid of ethnic political albatross.