Too little too late

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Working People’s Alliance (WPA) Executive Member, Dr. David Hinds

–‘voters in no mood to experiment’, says WPA’s David Hinds of advent of new political parties

 

WITH just months before new General and Regional Elections, several new political parties have sprung up to contest against the country’s two major political rivals, the ruling A Partnership for National Unity/Alliance For Change (APNU/AFC) and People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/Civic).

However, some in society are of the opinion that serious political parties should not be waiting until an election period to emerge, and must have more going for them than simply being a “pressure group”.

Former Georgetown Chamber of Commerce and Industry (GCCI) President Dr. Vishnu Doerga

“There are parties that arise out of the political and social situation in the country, and then there are parties that are formed around elections time, and I think a lot of the newer parties that you’re seeing now are parties that are formed around the election time, which means that they are formed just to contest the elections,” Working People’s Alliance (WPA) Executive Member, Dr. David Hinds said in an invited comment on Sunday.

The Federal United Party (FED-UP) was launched on January 11, 2019; the Liberty and Justice Party (LJP) was launched on January 12, 2019; A New and United Guyana (ANUG) was launched on January 18, 2019; and the most recent, The Citizens Initiative (TCI) was launched on October 17, 2019.

Another party, Changed Guyana (CG), is expected to be launched on October 29, 2019 at the Pegasus Hotel.

The first three parties emerged just weeks following the vote of no-confidence against the government by former ‘Coalition’ MP Charrandass Persaud, just when General and Regional elections were expected some three months later.

With the legal process climbing all the way to the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) and the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) taking some time to indicate its readiness, President David Granger, on September 25, 2019 announced that March 2, 2020 is the date for new elections. The most recent party was launched weeks later.

NOTHING NEW

According to Dr. Hinds, it is common practice for these little political parties to spring up around elections time. ANUG’s presidential candidate, Ralph Ramkarran said as much in his Sunday edition of ‘The Conversation Tree’; to wit, that the emerging of new parties near to election time is “not a new phenomenon”.

However, the public outcry in some quarters is that while these parties were formed in the hope of garnering at least 6,000 votes and more to secure a few seats in Parliament, many do not even garner a quarter of the number of votes to secure one seat.

According to the Laws of Guyana, each party must be contesting at least 50 per cent of geographically determined seats; must contest in at least six of the 10 geographic constituencies, and each political party must have at least one-third women on the list of representatives.

In the past, while new parties have been launched publicly, some have been unable to meet these basic requirements.
And, even though there is no mistaking his happiness to see more political groups join the fray, Dr. Hinds readily admitted that their emergence is ill-timed.

“I think in the environment that we have now in Guyana, it’s very polarised, and I don’t think that voters in either of the two big ethnic blocs are about to experiment with a new party, because that’s what they will be doing if they vote for these small parties. It would be an experiment, and I don’t think voters are in the mood to experiment, because, you know, there is a lot at stake in these elections,” he said.

He is of the opinion that while the new parties have come out in strong support of constitutional reform and good governance, they bring “no big policy initiative” to the table; initiatives such as the WPA’s Direct Cash Transfer.

And even though ANUG, which is primarily concerned with constitutional reform, and the LJP, a strong advocate for Amerindian issues, may do better than other parties, what they both boil down to in the long-run are “pressure groups” rather than parties that are well-rounded.

NO ROOM IN THE INN

“If a small party wants to survive in the political environment that we have, then they have, in one way or another, to form partnerships with the bigger parties, because the two big parties are the ones that monopolise the electoral landscape,” Dr. Hinds opined.

However, at least two of the most recent parties have stated that they have no intention of joining either major political party, while the LJP is currently in talks with APNU about a possible merger.

Meanwhile, former Georgetown Chamber of Commerce and Industry (GCCI) President Dr. Vishnu Doerga is of the belief that if more small-party representatives get into parliament, the more accountable can the government be held.

The Citizens Initiative (TCI), author and Cultural Policy Advisor, Ruel Johnson

He told the Guyana Chronicle that constitutional reform is necessary to bring about this change of which he speaks.

“If you don’t have specialised parties who represent specific interest groups, be it business, women, technology or whatever, you’ll end up with these large blocks of parties that basically just follow one agenda,” Doerga said, adding: “Just studying our Constitution as well, looking at how it excludes the formation of such parties, it’s something that needs to happen.”

The need for variety in representation is something that leader of the TCI, author and Cultural Policy Adviser, Ruel Johnson is in agreement with.

He explained that while his party closely watched the play-out of the challenges to the no-confidence motion before its launch, win or lose, it does not intend to fall by the wayside following the coming elections.

The TCI, he said, was formed with the main goal of teaching and demonstrating civic education, and that much like other parties formed in the past, it can make a lasting difference.

“Every single party that exists currently in Guyana has emerged from nothing. In the pre-independence era, with the great colonial powers lording it over the country, the PPP emerged. From the PPP, the PNC was split off, and they grew. In the 1970s, from nothing, the WPA, which is a currently a constituent party in the current governing coalition, went from zero to a player,” Johnson said, adding:

“Any arguments that are saying that time is short are both unscientific, as well as they ignore the reality of history and overall social context.”

Social media is just one strategy which the TCI will use to garner as much votes as it can to be well represented in Parliament.

QUESTION OF MATURITY
Amidst these aspirations of all new political parties involved, the question of whether Guyanese are now more willing than before to vote beyond race is still being debated.

“In a plural country, in a diverse country, there has to be political plurality and political diversity,” Johnson asserted, even as he sought to remind that Guyana’s ethnic division was not planned in villages, but engineered specifically by the country’s former colonial powers.

Optimistically, Dr. Doerga believes that the country possesses a large educated population below 40 years of age which would be able to make decisions for themselves beyond the boundary of race.

Ramkarran couldn’t agree more. “Some are relying on the substantial youth vote on the basis that the youth are less motivated by ethnic considerations and more by matters of principle and policy,” he said.

As he observed in his article, there is at least one other group organising itself to launch an additional political party.

However, with the parties springing up so close to elections, Dr. Doerga is advising that better organisation and a “much better game plan” are needed. He believes that it is still not too late for the parties to shape up to make a difference.