A troubled political marriage that traumatised Guyana  
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THERE is an adage, when tweaked, that says some political parties stay in a marriage because of the ceremonial feeling of togetherness, to enjoy perks and power extravagance. In the copious chambers of psychology, such a behavioral position is diagnosed as cognitive tunneling, meaning that individuals are too internally focused on what they want, and not on the wider aspects of that want. Put differently, it is a situation whereby one is concentrating on the trees, and in so doing, misses the benefits of the whole forest.
The above vignette applies to the APNU+AFC coalition, when both political parties joined hands on Valentine’s Day in 2015 to work together to compete in the general elections of that year. Undoubtedly, it was a glorious and graceful occasion that thousands of Guyanese were waiting for, to address the cynosure of one-party domination in Guyana: 28 and 22 years of PNC and PPP rule, respectively. The politically-arranged marriage of convenience between APNU and AFC captured the imagination of Guyanese, and made an enormous impact on Guyana’s ossified voting pattern. It was historic, as Guyanese, for the first time, voted mostly on issues rather than on race and ethnic loyalty. The APNU+AFC coalition slipped into power, based on the former sentiments, with a razor-thin majority, and the march towards a change, as outlined and perfected on the campaign trail, appeared existential.

Then, within months of the APNU+AFC coalition assuming power, we realised that the coalition’s idea of change in the style and substance of leadership from the tumultuous past was different and delusional from what Guyanese had hoped for. Instead of greasing the wheels of fair governance for all, as promised, the Coalition embarked on a journey of self-gratification and self-destruction, marrying the proviso of malfeasance. Space limits me to provide a full list, but jobs for loyalists (cronyism), the hiding of the US$18 million signing bonus (corruption), large and expensive celebrations (jamboree), the good life for all Guyanese (grandiloquence), closing of the sugar estates with no remorse (schadenfreude), uncontrolled spending (recklessness), the removal of opposition employees from important posts (witch-hunting), and the use of the State security services to achieve targeted objectives (parastatal), will suffice.
To understand why the pendulum swung from popularity to pomposity within the first year of APNU+AFC administration, it is instructive to examine the political factory that produced these individuals who joined hands to form the Coalition, and the situation that was created and allowed for it to flourish. First off, the individuals within the Coalition, from the PNC, were couched during the dark days of Forbes Burnham’s paramountcy of party, who believed that the mantle of leadership should be administered on the axis of diktat, command and control, an antiquated form of bureaucratic authoritarianism so common among tin-pot dictators of banana republics in the 1980s. We know this not only because the head honcho had paid repeated homage to Forbes Burnham’s “heroism”, but he had also asked a few rabble rousers in the AFC to goose-step with him. Those from the AFC were mainly a ragtag of so-called middle-class individuals who had severed ties with the PNC and the PPP, and who believed that they were wronged by the said parties, but were convinced they could be the Third Force of change Guyana desperately needed. In short, these were over-ambitious and pantomime politicians.

The PNC, which later became APNU, and the AFC, therefore, came together on the mutuality of interest to unseat the PPP from power. In so doing, they were successful in receiving the needed votes to hand them a victory, although the results of the 2015 general elections have now raised a red flag, given the deceit surrounding the 2020 general elections. Something else of substance also occurred. The Coalition had missed the opportunity to consolidate and even mend the ingrained differences among themselves to move Guyana forward. The idea of internal party-building was never on stream. I am flabbergasted by the thought that there was not anyone in the regular Cabinet meetings who remotely believed that inter-party building within a Coalition was a prerequisite for nation-building. It is logical to think that the initiative of uniformity would have been a high priority, since the Coalition was formed merely three months before the election, not to mention the open disapproval of the AFC supporters to form a Coalition with the stained PNC. Instead, the Coalition moved with supersonic speed to conceal crackpot characteristics, as evidenced by the fact the leaders of both parties within the Coalition hardly faced the public and press jointly.

The second point I want to stress is that the Coalition miscalculated the power of the PPP opposition, believing that the PPP would remain on the other side of the political fence. Apart from the Coalition’s vain-glorious posturing, the display of fragmented leadership and “mistakes” by the Coalition played into the hands of the PPP opposition. Consistent pressure from the PPP, via press conferences, print, and social media was instrumental in mobilising the return of supporters who had left to join the AFC, and to bridge the inter-generation gap of those who knew, and those who had heard of PNC excesses. The stage was set for the development of critical thinkers to have a field day, revealing not only a fragile but loose political marriage. To be continued. (lomarsh.roopnarine@jsums.edu).

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