MY TURN | DISSENT WITHOUT DIVISION

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WITHIN a week, the Alliance For Change (AFC) will hold its biennial conference at which the general strategy of the party will be hammered out, and new election of party leaders will take place. As happens in the life of all political parties, the run-up to such an event, and the event itself, would see intense lobbying and inner-party campaigns. Like cricket, there would be dissent over the “length and line” of every policy.

On the sideline, the enemies of the party expect to see blood on the floor of the conference. Like the fabled but terrifying witch-doctors, they have been concocting a toxic devil’s brew of division and personality clashes amongst AFC leaders. They have been preparing the “wake” for the party’s death. None of that has happened in the past, and I doubt that the prophets of doom would succeed in sowing the seeds of division at the upcoming event.

BETTER IMAGE
The better image of the AFC as a sturdy party will shine. This image unwittingly is being projected by the fickle detractors who have been advertising the conference as a battle for pre-eminence between the party’s super-weights. In a wicked, racist obsession over the AFC’s actual strength and electoral appeal, they have singled out the foremost Indo-Guyanese as chief contenders, setting one up against the other, in a manufactured frenzy over power. It wouldn’t work!

The AFC is a key partner in the present coalition government which came into office on May 11, 2015 with a razor-thin, one-seat majority of seats in the National Assembly, The party’s general line, so far, has been that the whole is greater than its constituent parts; that its primary duty is to preserve the unity and stability of the coalition and defend the interests of the Guyanese people.

In its review, the AFC may re-examine its decision to run independently at last November’s local government elections, and the impact of that decision on the coalition and the national interest. While it mustered the requisite vote to validate its role as an authentic third force, the coalition’s over-all performance was dismal. Its defeat had opened the door to the opportunistic attempt by a cunning opposition to unseat the coalition government.

SHAMEFUL BETRAYAL
The crude and shameful betrayal of the coalition by a fake AFC assemblyman will not escape condemnation at the conference, where delegates will have an opportunity to also unequivocally declare full confidence in the coalition government and its leadership.
This conference is being held at a very delicate time when the coalition enters its fifth year of its first term in office. A frank and honest review of its performance would be expected. Of course, while the success of the coalition far outweighs its shortcomings, delegates would wish to highlight certain mistakes and weaknesses, including deficiencies in certain good-governance practices.

It ought to be noted that it was the first time in post-independent Guyana that one-party rule was replaced by a six-party coalition. The APNU+AFC coalition brought together in what has been described as “Big Tent politics” leaders hitherto from all political parties and from civil society. It has entered history as Guyana’s first ideologically plural and genuinely multi-ethnic national government.

FACTIONALISM AND DIVISION
As the party’s designated “Elder Statesman,” I expect open dissent on major issues. Dissent is the lifeblood of any democratic political movement. What should be avoided are factionalism and division. The AFC, though vibrant, is still young and small. Like a tiny canoe, it has to learn how to navigate the big waves. It has to learn from our own contemporary political history, which is full of examples where dissent and dogmatism had resulted in major divisions.

It was dissent within the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) that had led to the catastrophic 1955 split. It was first dramatised at a congress when a faction of the party walked out; and then the division became irreversible. That rupture in the first united, authentic, national independence movement has seemingly institutionalised ethnic and political polarisation in the country.

From that split came the PPP and the PNC. But both parties have since experienced their own mini-splits. Periodic defections have given birth not only to several other parties, but a diverse array of youth, women, cultural, religious, labour and solidarity groupings.

When Guyana’s political sage, Eusi Kwayana (Sydney King), left the PPP he not only founded the African Society for Cultural Relations with Independent Africa (ASCRIA). In the mid-60s, a tiny splinter occurred when internal PPP elections were manipulated against the right-wing dissident, Balramsingh Rai, who formed the Hindu-oriented Justice Party. The rigging of those internal elections had caused the brilliant Dr Fenton Ramsahoye, then a PPP leader, to remark famously, “Comrade, the party works in devious ways.” It still does, with an unruly “Gang of 8” at the helm.

A combination of dissent and division further flaked off from the PPP some of the better known anti-colonial fighters, including national poet Martin Carter, Brindley Horatio Benn of “you can stop tomorrow but not communism” fame, and Moses Bhagwan, the fiery former chairman of the Progressive Youth Organisation (PYO). Apart from ASCRIA, the fallouts from the PPP and the PNC gave birth to Bhagwan’s Indian People’s Revolutionary Associates (IPRA), Benn’s Working People’s Vanguard Party (WPVP) and Green’s Good and Green Guyana (GGG). ASCRIA, IPRA and WPVP later teamed up with the independent Ratoon Group of Clive Thomas and Joshua Ramsammy to form the Working People’s Alliance (WPA).

AFC LEADERSHIP
The Alliance For Change (AFC) was formed by leaders who were originally associated with the PPP (Khemraj Ramjattan), PNC (Raphael Trotman) and WPA (Sheila Holder). After 50 unbroken years with the PPP, I joined the AFC in 2011. The AFC’s leadership has the enviable image of all the major parties!

Considered the “mother of all parties,” the PPP survived the mass defection to the PNC of almost its entire corps of Marxist-Leninist ideologues and several Russian-indoctrinated cadres, who had formed the communist apparatchik.

Shaken by the defections, nervous Stalinist elements in the party had placed on a Watch List the remaining unorthodox young activists like Halim Majeed, his brother Zaheer Majeed, Odeen Ishmael and I, who were not trained in Russia, but who were condemned as revolutionary intellectuals. At every congress since 1998 the campaigns became more hostile and voting was manipulated.

The AFC cannot walk along this polluted putrid path. It must reach for the mountain top of selfless leadership and unity in its ranks.