Dealing with dissent

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NO Anglophone Caribbean government in recent decades has come under as much scrutiny during its first term in office as our current APNU+AFC Coalition Government.

Besides, it is customary for new governments to be allowed the proverbial honeymoon period with the understanding that, that time represents a transition from the old to the new; from very early in its term however, this administration faced the most aggressive of criticisms, so much so that even before completing its five-year term the coalition faced a no-confidence motion which was passed in the National Assembly. Though abiding by the constitution and the rulings of the court on this matter, it continuously has to make the case that it was following the rule of law.

However, if one were to judge from the criticisms of the opposition PPP and the commentaries in the media, it seems more as though the administration has been in government for three terms. The big consequence is that the government has not had the space needed to settle into its own mode of operation; it has had to simultaneously try to put its own stamp on the governmental process and defend itself against an avalanche of criticisms, including some glaringly unjustified ones.

The PPP, even close to new elections, is still smarting from the shock of losing power and has been the most uncooperative and uncomplimentary opposition. It has gone as far as rejecting national unity talks. Instead, it pontificates on every issue in a manner that suggests its objective is criticism simply for the sake of doing so. What is even more nauseating is that it barefacedly seeks to hold this new government responsible for all its failings, when it has occupied the seat of power for less than five years. Besides, the daily rantings by its top leaders and some within civil society replete with threats against and slander of the government cut a sorry picture. There is not even a hint of patriotism or goodwill; it’s as if the government is an invading force.

Some may argue that the PPP is merely doing what a serious opposition is supposed to do. While there is some merit to that argument, in the final analysis the opposition is part of the government. In that regard, it does have a responsibility to ensure that its oversight of the government is constructive and not destructive. Clearly, the PPP is mindful of its own questionable stewardship of the country for over two decades, so criticism of the government is less about oversight and more about creating a distraction and in the process putting the government on the defensive. Mr Jagdeo has made clear time and again that the PPP is solely concerned with regaining power at the next elections and even before those elections were constitutionally due, he, through alleged trickery, engineered a no-confidence motion and got a government MP to vote with his party to bring down the government.

So far the government has responded well to its critics. It has pushed back against the PPP’s demonisation with success. Crucially, it has not sought to silence the PPP. This is evident by the very fact that the PPP’s viewpoints are given coverage in the state-owned media—a drastic departure from the PPP’s attitude when it held the seat of power. In the end a government is judged not only by the success of its policies, but equally by how it deals with dissent.