WHEN the history of Guyana will have been properly written, the year 2015 will go down as one of the most significant years in the history of Guyana. It was the year when the Guyanese electorate went against the political grain by electing a majority government that was not the People’s Progressive Party (PPP).
On account of our ethnic voting patterns, the PPP, whose traditional base has been the majority Indo-Guyanese community, had won a number of the elections held here. So when that party was relegated to the opposition benches after the May 11, 2015 polls, that relegation represented a break with a six-decade-old tradition.
Leader of the PPP, Bharrat Jagdeo had identified complacency and arrogance among party and government functionaries as key factors. Others had pointed to government corruption and general mismanagement of the ship of government and State as other contributory factors. While all of the above may be true, few can doubt that the evolution of Partnership Politics was a major factor, if not THE major factor. Beginning in 2011 with the formation of A Partnership for National Unity (APNU), and culminating in 2015 with the APNU+AFC coalition, the electorate was presented with new alternatives at the last two elections. The APNU consolidated the fractured traditional PNC base to mount a serious challenge in 2011, which, along with the AFC’s incursion into the PPP’s traditional base, caused the latter to lose its accustomed parliamentary majority.
The big question in 2015 was whether the APNU and the AFC could, together, achieve what they did separately in 2011. After much agonising, they actually did achieve what seemed unachievable a few short years prior. The significance of the rise of Partnership Politics may be lost on some, particularly on the opposition side. We now have an entire generation of Guyanese who are being socialised in the politics of pluralism, and for whom one-party politics may be a foreign consideration. Jagdeo may have recognised this when, in assessing the reasons the PPP lost the election, pointed to young PPP supporters who opted for change by voting for the ‘coalition’. While he is hoping that that move was temporary, he may well find out that it is more permanent than he thinks.
Can it be that Guyana has finally stumbled upon a political formula that could usher in that long-desired plural form of government that reflects the country’s ethnic diversity? There are many who still speak about the dominance of the PNC in the APNU, and the dominance of the APNU in the coalition as a truism. Such calculations lose sight of the fact that the partnership has begun to take on a life of its own. The idea and reality of the coalition forged a popular optimism among a majority of the electorate that drove a higher-than-normal turnout to the polls. In other words, the coalition benefited from a spirit of national consensus that is widespread in the country.
Partnership politics is never easy, and this governing coalition brings together parties with differing political cultures and ideological groundings. Significantly, it brings together at least two parties that were once political enemies. The presence of a coalition does not mean the absence of tension; the latter is inevitable. Yet, if each party intentionally puts the interests of the entire country ahead of partisan disagreements, the country would inevitably benefit. As Professor Clive Thomas, one of the early architects of the APNU, put it, the test of political substance lies not in how well one works with comrades, but in how well one is able to work with those with whom one does not share a natural political culture.