IT is abundantly clear at this electoral juncture that we are in the midst of an attempt at a Puppet Presidency. If there was any doubt, the People’s Progressive Party’s campaign thus far has coughed up the evidence. First, the Presidential Candidate, Mr. Irfaan Ali is hardly featured on campaign props and signage. Second, the overarching figure of General Secretary of the party, Mr. Bharrat Jagdeo, dominates the political operation. Third, the main mantra of the appeal to the electorate is that it is a team operation and not about the Presidential Candidate. In the face of this indisputable development, it is safe to argue that we are witnessing an attempt at a puppet presidency. This is not up for argumentation. It proceeds from a desire for the acquisition of President for life by the former President who reigned during the ‘dark period’ of leadership from 1999-2011. It is, therefore, necessary to put all of this in brief analysis for the education of the populace.
THE THIRD-TERM OBSESSION
You will recall the recent legal and very public brouhaha over the third-term imbroglio. In 2001, the Guyana Parliament, with a two-thirds majority, altered Article 90 of the 1980 Constitution to establish the term limit of Presidents. This was signed into law by President Bharrat Jagdeo under duress from his party’s central executive with the likes of Ralph Ramkarran insisting on the amendment. The nation breathed a sigh of relief, thinking that this was a new era where unchecked insatiable appetites for power will be forever corralled by this legislation. What great intrigue and Caesarean plotting met the nation when there was a petition by Mr. Cedric Richardson to the courts requesting the decision by the Guyana Parliament to be struck down. When Mr. Richardson was contacted, he denied that he was behind this case from his modest home which was not consistent with the astronomical costs that surrounded this case. To date, Mr. Richardson has not been identified. The name on the case docket remains a phantom. The case found its way to the Caribbean Court of Justice. The eminent Justices upheld the original ruling and the people rejoiced. We thought this was the end of the pursuit of the President-for-life by Mr. Jagdeo. It was certainly not and this was painfully obvious when Mohammed Irfaan Ali was selected as the Presidential Candidate for the 2020 elections.
THE DISEASE OF POWER
I am forever guided by the sentiments of Babara Tuchman, contained in her magnus opus, ‘The March of Folly’, ‘Chief among the forces affecting political folly is lust for power, named by Tacitus as “the most flagrant of all passions.” Historians, psychologists, political scientists and all the geniuses of various vocations have sought to decipher the phenomenon of the disease of power. Thomas Paine opined, ‘…a thirst for power is the natural disease of Monarchy, and Giuilo Andreotti submitted, ‘power is a disease one has no desire to cure of’. There can be no accurate blanket assessment of what spurs men to the pursuit of power for life. This has to be analyzed based on individual circumstances and specific contexts. In the Guyana context, it is very possible that becoming President at age 35 through a carefully choreographed process may have imbued the former President with a belief that he is the enlightened omniscient one that has all the answers to save the nation. Perhaps, the political experience of two successive tenures may have sparked the belief of being an infallible demi-god, this is the hubris that nurtures dictatorship and it is the essence of what Lord Acton passionately warned against when he cautioned: ‘Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely’. The life obsession never takes a break, it is incessant and unrelenting. This is the sad reality of the disease of power.
ATTEMPTS AT A PUPPET PRESIDENCY
Modern leaders who are obsessed with power for life have found a way to circumvent statute and legislation that limit them, they have pivoted to power for life through the proxy. Vladimir Putin is the negative global exemplar of how to navigate the modern limits in a democracy. Just like Russia, Guyana is caught up in the whirlwind of the passionate pursuit for President for life and eternal rule. This has converged on the cusp of the mother of all elections on March 2. It has to be noted, a Puppet Presidency never proceeds from the place of honorable national intentions. It is not fraught with grand visions and national long-term goals. It is simply a transactional arrangement that facilitates the pursuit of personal aggrandizement. On the precipice of Guyana’s greatest economic transformation since its independence, it would be several national steps backward to support attempts at a Puppet Presidency.