On the same day that Guyana’s People’s Progressive Party (PPP) stalwart Ralph Ramkarran stormed out of a party meeting in disgust a couple years ago, President Donald Ramotar was in Saint Lucia attending a CARICOM Summit. We had planned to meet days before, so I wormed my way into where he and the other Heads had gathered during the coffee break, hand-shaking and greeting my way from each Prime Minister to President to Chief Minister known to me, until I got to my Comrade President.
He was visibly shaken by the news about Ramkarran. We arranged to have breakfast and talk more at his hotel before he hurriedly flew off to Georgetown. But it was more than just the Ramkarran walk-away on the President’s mind during his quick return flight back home.
Very early in our parley prior to departure, I had humbly (but very seriously) suggested he return the country to the polls. I advised that running a government with an opposition having a majority in his (particularly Guyana) circumstances could be worse than US President Barack Obama having to rule with a Republican Congress.
It had to be clear to my dear comrade that a one-seat opposition majority anywhere spelt gloom, if not doom. I shared with him the most recent Saint Lucia political experience with a one-seat majority — and urged that he take a page from our history book written by Sir John Compton.
I explained that Sir John’s ruling United Workers Party (UWP) had in 1987 won a general election with 9-8 – the slimmest of political margins. He refused to take office with any other MP on his side having a chance of holding him to political ransom. He returned to the polls within 21 days, but the second poll returned the same 9-8 result.
Sir John’s political derriere was way up a long and deep creek. He had to find a way out – and he did. He sought and found a weak link in the opposition’s armor and had an MP from the other side cross the floor to his. It cost him only a ministerial portfolio, the flirting MP appointed Foreign Minister.
Never mind all our shared political and ideological positions and perceptions, I said, politics on election day and in parliament is a game of numbers; and, like it or not, Sir John let the end justify his means and emerged with a more comfortable 10-7 majority.
It appears my comrade neither listened, nor heard. He might have felt it was too early and costly to return to the polls, without sufficiently facing the fact that a one-seat-majority in the opposition’s hands could at any and all times be tantamount to it having all its ten fingers up his government’s rectum.
I’m not sure my two cents worth of advice ever resurfaced in the President’s mind after he touched down at the Timehri or Ogle airports. But events between then and the elections earlier this month suggest it never did. I repeatedly heard him and his government complain about the opposition doing what any opposition in its place would do anywhere else. His government’s slight grip on parliamentary power loosened progressively sharply, as bill after bill was axed on the opposition’s one-seat guillotine.
Eventually, my friend finally did what I’d advised a few years earlier — but only because he was forced to. Had he read the tea leaves when they were green and fresh, perhaps – just perhaps – Guyana’s history today might – just might — have been different.
Now the table has turned. My comrades in the PPP are crying foul. But until they can prove what they say, the world will accept the status quo. Guyanese voters have been officially declared to have effected change — once more. A new President and Prime Minister have been sworn-in and the new APNU-AFP Alliance government is taking shape.
The new President is known to me. In my years in Guyana working with the PPP and successive Jagan-led administrations, he transitioned from leading soldiers at Fort Ayangana to publishing a resourceful magazine entitled ‘The Guyana Review’.
The new Prime Minister is even better known to me, our friendship spanning over half our lives and across professional boundaries. My subject minister while I served over there (in my roles at state-owned GBC radio and GTV) was also my co-joined comrade, colleague and dear friend.
In many ways, I see the current phase in Guyana as being similar to 1992. Back then the PPP’s victory was largely attributed to its alliance with the CIVIC component; today, the former PNC’s victory is similarly largely attributed to the APNU’s alliance with former enemies from the WPA and PPP and its embrace of the AFP.
I also think the end of the Jagan era had the cumulative same effect on the PPP as Forbes Burnham’s death had on the PNC in the immediate thereafter.
This can be the dawn of a brand new day for Guyana. The historical acrimonies remain, but the peaceful poll and non-violent response to the results open the way for the new allied leaders from a distant and distanced past to forge new paths to progress.
The new President — a former army general and Chief of Staff of the Guyana Defense Force — has said he’ll be “a good president” for all Guyanese. He heads a coalition of varied minds pooled together against a common enemy. He leads a group of former foes in what they hope will be more than just a chewing-gum political and electoral alliance.
Guyanese returned a mandate for change, but it won’t be as fast as many will wish or want. Try as they may, none of the major parties will be able or allowed to immediately put the elections behind them. There will still be much weeping and wailing and moaning and gnashing of teeth. Lots of fingers will be pointed. Scores will be settled. Countless allegations and accusations will fly. Numerous revelations will be made. A few court cases will be filed. And several top government notches will go – or be sent — home. Much still hidden will come to light.
In essence (in the coming year at least) Guyana will experience what normally follows any change of government in any CARICOM country with similar scorched-earth politics. The new opposition has promised to say and do a lot. The political and media analysts will diagnose and prescribe with even more vigour.
But, after all is done and said, where Guyana goes from here will depend, in the first instance, on how far and fast the new political leadership can or is prepared to break with the past and embrace the now for near and distant future.
Twenty-three years ago Guyana was officially declared the second poorest country in the Western Hemisphere after Haiti. Today, it has climbed out of that ditch and is among the few CARICOM states posting positive annual economic growth. Like back then, the world will be ready today and tomorrow to offer needed helping hands to the new government and people. But everything will depend on what the new administration inherits and where it decides to start the new ball rolling.
The change was the easy part. Now for the hard part: continuing the nation’s journey in the direction the new Prime Minister promised before elections would be another example of a Caribbean government going ‘Forward ever, backward never!’