THE evidence from five recent major public events points unmistakably to the six-party, APNU+AFC Coalition Government being returned to office at the March 2 polls. For me, there are 50 days ahead for victory!
There was the respective launch of the elections campaign by the APNU+AFC and the PPP/C, the two major parties among the 13 that will contest the elections. The coalition attracted the biggest crowd ever in the history of Guyanese elections at the D’Urban Park, with its supporters energised and pumped up as if the event were a celebration and not a campaign.
When the PPP/C huddled for its launch in Kitty, there was a lukewarm response which apologetically the opposition party blamed on “low-budget” mobilisation. That was a half-baked explanation for a major flop, since buses were deployed to the contiguous coastal regions, but they returned partially filled with backers. There were too many red battle shirts, but fewer revolutionaries!
Also, it was evident that the PPP/C was experiencing an internal revolt as several of its prime leaders did not fully identify with the event. The reason was clear: they did not publicly endorse presidential candidate, Irfaan Ali.
In a letter published in the local press yesterday Dr. Joey Jagan, son of the late President Jagan, stated that “the no-show on the Kitty stage of key PPP leaders tells its own story and that story will culminate in their defeat on March 2.” He opined that Freedom House buried democratic principles when Jagdeo sponsored the presidential candidate whom he described as “a rabbit pulled out of his hat.”
The next event was the re-affirmation rally at Hopetown, West Berbice, Mahaica-Berbice (Region Five) of the massive support for the coalition in a geographical region that the Opposition PPP won at the 2015 elections by just under 4,000 votes. This region has an ethnically mixed population that depends on rice farming, sugar-cane production and livestock-rearing. It has benefitted from government’s land-support services, primarily drainage and irrigation facilities and sea defence works.
In a year when paddy production has hit a high of over one million metric tonnes, doubling the 2013 levels, and exports of rice products to over 35 countries raked in a whopping $44 billion (US$222.7 million), farmers in the giant Mahaica/Mahaicony/Abary agricultural scheme (MMA/ADA) are bound to repose confidence in their government. The signals are therefore clear that the APNU+AFC coalition is attracting growing numbers from the working people, and from ethnic-based, cross-over support, mainly among youths.
The PPP/C appeared flabbergasted at the enthusiastic show of support for the coalition, and claimed that the coalition had used state resources for the political rally. It also emerged sour after that rally as the PPP had been riding on the possibility that the coalition could be divided over the slot for a prime ministerial candidate. But President David Granger read the opposition’s desperation, and snatched from them the headlines by naming Khemraj Ramjattan, the AFC leader as prime ministerial candidate.
SUPERIOR NUMERICAL STRENGTH
The final head-on contest took place on Friday, January 10 – Nomination Day. The “Big Two” in the race mobilised separately, but the PPP was no match in size or savvy for the coalition. The event was carried live and while the images laid bare the ethnic polarisation that has characterised our political mobilisation at elections time, it also revealed the superior numerical strength of the coalition among urban voters.
The propaganda rag, Guyana Times, tried to make excuses why the best efforts of the PPP to match the coalition crowd failed. It resorted to the insulting characterisation of coalition support as “raucous PNC crowd.” While it acknowledged that Georgetown is the “stamping-ground” (hic!) of the coalition, it insinuated in demeaning ethno-racist-caste terms and disdain for these mainly African urban supporters, that they came out because “it doesn’t take more than an offer of fried rice…to get over the lumpen element – especially of the female persuasion, to come out for another wine-down”. (Eye Witness, GT, January 11).
Those five events would stand out as the political weather cock that shows that the campaign wind, so far, is blowing in the direction of the APNU+AFC coalition. They also show that the PPP/C still has potential for mobilisation, and should not be under-estimated, since it is adept at successfully playing the race card, as is evident from the show of loyalty by disgruntled elements, who might stay away from the limelight, but have still opted to be party candidates for the elections.
The incumbent Granger Government is going into these elections on a high. It has outstripped previous administrations in promoting fantastic first-term achievements, especially the 77 per cent increase in the national minimum wage.
On the other hand, the Jagdeo-led PPP/C regime is still struggling to emerge from its dreaded legacy of pervasive corruption, extra-judicial killings, complicity with narco-traffickers, cronyism, breaches of the constitution, etc. , which have dented the trust its own supporters have in it.
In these elections the narrative could read like Charles Dickens’ “A Tale of Two Cities”, with hope and fears intermingling that it could lead to the best of times and the worse of times. For the PPP/C, it would be a huge effort to beat back the apathy and withdrawal of its supporters, as it would be a challenge for the coalition to keep up the momentum of high-energy mobilisation and to bring out voters.
The next 50 days would be a defining period for Guyana, as the democratic world is watching the holding of elections in this latest addition to the list of oil producers. With the political players raising the stakes, some have said that this would be the “mother of all elections.” That may be so, which places greater responsibilities on Madam Justice Claudette Singh, Chairman of the Elections Commission, to be the midwife of clean and credible elections. She said that she would, and all Guyanese should accept Her Honour’s solemn undertaking.