EXPERIENCE AND EXPERIMENT
AS a result of inter-party engagements over past weeks, speculations have been running wild over the health of the coalition government. For me, as an old hand, I see no reason for alarm, as the partners are in transition mode to a qualitatively higher form of cooperation.
The first-term experience has shown without a doubt that the six-party alliance, which President Granger has graphically portrayed as the “Big Benab,” has worked well for Guyana. At the political level, there have been hiccups, primarily over trust after the no-confidence vote against the government, but no major fallout.
At the performance level, for those who judge achievements by statistics, Guyana has experienced steady economic growth. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has projected a 4.4% GDP rate for 2019; even if this were to dip slightly, it would not upset the upbeat and optimistic trajectory into next year, given first oil, that Guyana’s economy is expected to balloon by 86%; that by 2024, GDP will expand by leaps to reach US$15 billion.
In the more recent pre-oil years, Guyana has experienced steady economic growth but the IMF’s projection, according to Finance Minister Winston Jordan, is a “stratospheric leap.” That optimism has been given a gigantic boost by NASDAQ, which has predicted on the basis of oil finds estimated at six billion barrels, that Guyana would become the fastest-growing economy in the world.
It is clear that Guyana, under the APNU+AFC coalition government, is ahead in overall performance, which has led President David Granger to assert with ease that the coalition will return to office at the 2020 elections with a handsome majority of 36 out of the 65 parliamentary seats!
This empirical evidence of success should guide the political partners to hammer out tactical issues over this weekend, having already agreed on the strategic position of entering the 2020 elections as the APNU+AFC coalition. Experience would show that while the coalition is ahead, and winning the race, there is no need to experiment.
Looking ahead at the 2020 contest, my mind raced back to two episodes that I find amusing, but at the same time very apt. The first is about Bright Steel, my father’s champion horse that had always won his races by several lengths and, on one occasion, by a whole furlong.
During the late 50s at D’urban Park, Bright Steel was racing against a foreign horse named Pop Gun. It was, as Edward Luckhoo had announced on radio, “Bright Steel/Pop Gun; Bright Steel/Pop Gun.” But as the horses neared the tape, Pop Gun edged his way closer to the front and was running neck to neck with Bright Steel. In a sudden but swift move, Bright Steel made a grab as if to bite Pop Gun’s ear. The race ended in a photo-finish, and Pop Gun won by a nose’s length! Bright Steel’s experiment, while he was ahead, to intimidate his rival, cost him the race.
My second vignette was that of the boy who was in love with a girl from my village. He was taking part in a grass-track motor-cycle race at the Whim cricket ground. He was leading in the race by a long distance; however, as he swung the final turn, he rose from his seat and let go of the cycle’s handles. He was heard shouting the name of his lover as he threw his arms into the air.
The next thing I saw was him being thrown into the air. The bike, like a raging and unruly juggernaut, dislodged him as it tumbled on the wet grass. The experiment by the love-struck motor racer of being cock-sure of victory failed, even though his antics were motivated by the purest pangs of unrequited love.
The coalition is obviously in front of the political race, and there could be no doubting the likelihood of its return to government with a bigger majority. It is therefore not the time for it to experiment, that is, to tinker with the winning APNU+AFC brand.
A part of the winning formula was based on principles, one of which was that the APNU would identify the presidential candidate, and the AFC the prime ministerial candidate. Though I have stayed clear from the negotiating teams, I gather that the conclusion is trending towards the respective partners retaining the above two slots.
This time around, based on experience, every care ought to be taken to avoid the flaw in the 2015 formula, which is, that the prime minister would become the Chairman of Cabinet. There ought to be a caveat that the coalition partners should not contract for any unconstitutional outcomes. The status quo requires that the President is the designated Chairman of Cabinet. He also appoints the prime minister and other ministers, even when he does so upon recommendations from coalition partners.
In my case, after being appointed prime minister, the President navigated his constitutional command by delegating to me functions of chairing Cabinet. That was done without any fuss or fanfare. The President has allowed me full grasp of the reins over Cabinet and its major business sub-committee, even as my sour detractors saw this as a personality issue and tried to belittle me.
Personality politics has invariably attracted irreconcilable problems. We have only to look at Guyana’s contemporary politics where a toxic mixture of ideological and personality differences resulted in the 1955 split of the country’s first united, national liberation movement. It later undermined unity in the pre-1992 elections Patriotic Coalition for Democracy (PCD), when the minority parties demanded as a basis for a power-sharing government, the presidency, together with one-half of parliamentary seats!
Having given the PCD its name and taking part in those talks, I found that that demand has been an experiment in unreasonableness. I had argued then that the 10 per cent groups could not negotiate for parity with a 40 per cent party. Instead of finding a compromise, the mini-parties walked from the talks.
Sometimes it is important to know when to step aside or to walk away. During the run-up to the 1997 elections, although I had ranked among the Top Five in the PPP’s leadership, I declared that I was not running for either party or state posts.
With the death of Cheddi Jagan, the PPP was thrown into a succession mode; I pleaded for cohesion in the party’s leadership. I shared during several high-level leadership meetings tragic experiences in Ethiopia and Afghanistan, and the implosion of the Grenada revolution; these were due to squabbles for positions, about which Cheddi had repeatedly lectured us.
VICTORY IS ASSURED
Those experiences notwithstanding, the post-Jagan PPP was to experiment with internal manipulations to achieve gang control of both the party and the government.
The gang resorted to crude rigging of leadership contests, even in the choice of a presidential candidate for the 2011 elections. That resulted in disaffection at the party’s leadership and resignation from it. I was among those who made the correct decision to walk away from the corrupt rump. As a consequence, in 2011, the PPP lost its majority in parliament; and by 2015, it lost the government after an unbroken 23 years.
There are many other experiences from which our coalition partners could learn. There is therefore no need for any costly experiment. Victory is assured, but the coalition partners must quickly lock down the principles that our people, not personalities, come first!