A sober national debate

IT is very difficult to have a proper national debate in a poisonous political atmosphere. And this is precisely what we have in Guyana at the moment. Not that this is anything new; ever since the split of the nationalist movement in 1955 our politics has struggled to find a civil tone. But since the recent change of government, things have gotten out of hand. Open threats to jail opponents, charges of ethnic cleansing and other strident statements have characterised the debate.The recent announcement that the ruling parties are ready to talk to the opposition PPP about a National Unity government has fallen victim to this political poison. The PPP has seized the opportunity to continue its derision of the Prime Minister, Moses Nagamootoo. The Opposition Leader, Bharat Jagdeo has made it very clear that he will not deal with the PM.
Of course Mr. Jagdeo ignores the fact that the government is dealing with him, despite pressures from its supporters to avoid any dealings with him. He must be aware that his appointment as opposition leader was met with a great outcry from opposition supporters. But President David Granger did the mature thing and reached out to Mr. Jagdeo. As he said at the time of the first meeting between the two, once the PPP chose Mr. Jagdeo as their leader he was constitutionally bound to deal with him.
Mr Jagdeo would do well to emulate the statesmanship of the President. In refusing to deal with Nagamootoo, he is in effect trying to determine who the leaders of the governing parties should be. No party should arrogate to itself the right to choose the leaders of another party. Mr Jagdeo and the PPP should not allow their dislike for the PM to get in the way of carrying out the nation’s business. Not a day passes without some nasty attack on Mr. Nagamootoo in one of our daily newspapers. Criticism of leaders, their policies and statements is very much in order, but character assassination, cuss-outs and deliberate misrepresenting the statements of others have no place in democratic politics.
For too long countries like Guyana have been the laughing stock of the world precisely because of the inability of their leaders to behave as grown-ups. Twice former, President of the United States, Jimmy Carter has walked out of Guyana frustrated by the stubbornness of leaders. Is that what we have committed ourselves to? We do not point fingers in any one direction—all are involved and all are guilty. We have had cause in the recent past to decry the near lawlessness of parliamentary debates. Whatever some may think about parliamentary tradition, there is a clear distinction between wit and banter on the one hand and cuss-down on the other. The National Assembly is a national institution and symbol that ought to set a proper example for the country to follow. It is not a dance hall.
We, therefore, call on our politicians to cool it. Tone down the nasty rhetoric. As elected and appointed leaders, your job is to make the country look and feel good. Our children and young people are watching and we would be surprised if they are impressed. On the eve of our 50th anniversary of independence we can and should do better.


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