'Everything pointed to basic mistrust'

by Eusi Kwayana
Stabroek News
March 21, 1999

Today we present the sequel to the column published last week entitled, "The search for politics across party lines (1953-1990)," in which Eusi Kwayana looks at the reasons for the failure of attempts at coalition prior to 1990.

Why did the recommendations listed in my article (SN March 14, 1999) not succeed? Before attempting to answer, let me admit two omissions from the list given last week. First, the TUC proposed to the constitution-making assembly after the referendum, a constitution for across-party government. Its recommendations were totally ignored.

Next, the idea of a caretaker Government was first put forward by the University of Guyana Workers' Union at the TUC level, nearly a decade before 1991.

The All-Party Conference idea had been very promising, but it fell into a context of international concerns, which raised suspicions about it. The moderate parties were fearful of being tainted with PPP ideology and the PPP top leadership was equally fearful of being tainted by the other side. Though some PPP persons feared no taint, the final position of the PPP was that such a process could expose the masses of working people to less radical ideas from the non-PPP parties. That position is documented.

About the offer of one ministry to the conservative United Democratic Party, the majority of the united PPP felt that it would offend those who had voted for the PPP and rejected the UDP. Such are the very real problems of nation building.

The Bourda Green unity proposal from me (1957) was an interesting test. The heavy heckling in that Bourda Green meeting came from supporters of the faction of the PPP which later became the PNC. PPP supporters present showed no hostility.

I was not close to the Ghana-led negotiations. Nkrumah sent a mixed team of both ideologues, some sympathetic to the PPP and nationalists, some sympathetic to the PNC, but all stoutly anti-imperialist. From what came out, the whole thing turned on 'strategic ministries,' as we came to call them later. The one delegate I came to know best, Dr Nketsia, a cultural figure, poured a libation at ASCRIA for "an end to this fighting between Jagan and Burnham." The only Guyanese in the team was T.R. Makonnen, a practising Pan-Africanist, who gave his life to service on that continent. On arriving in Brazil on the way back to Accra, he told the press that Dr Jagan was not a Marxist.

My own reading was that the PPP was aware of its long-term strength in the context of a racial split, and was less insecure about a coalition than the PNC. Neither leadership would admit it. The PNC leader would always ask those academics who approached him on coalitions whether they were proposing "unity between the lion and the lamb"?

All of this pointed to basic mistrust. I have always seen this as a factor humans can control. What were later called the racial prisons were already under construction. Each leader was slowly becoming locked in with followers and potential supporters.

Except for the later proposals of the New World Group and the earlier explosive one from the African Society For Racial Equality (ASRE), coalition proposals were made without a hint of the need for constitutional amendments and guarantees. They were mere coalitions, which could fall apart and in which the Prime Minister could dismiss any minister.

The proposal for joint premiership and minority guarantees with partition as a last resort went deeper than the others to undermine the Westminster system. The proposers unwisely underrated the effect it would have. Thus while they made sense at the street corner and to the average citizen, they made nonsense to political elites and leaders. The PNC certainly saw in the proposals competition for leadership, although they acknowledged the PNC leader. In their world, this was so, because the maximum leader was supposed to produce all the leading ideas. The PNC saw itself as bound to win the 1961 elections and saw the joint premiership proposals as yet another act from "Sydney King" to deprive their leader of well-deserved leadership of the country. The PPP saw them as an attempt to deprive their leader and their party of a well-deserved majority victory and the right to lead.

As an aside, no one has been interested in the internal arguments in ASRE, which made the proposal. The phrasing of "partition as a last resort" should have alerted political historians. The small organisation had two `leading' spirits. One of team was the mentor, a multi-disciplined scientist, Mr (not Dr) H H Nicholson who had spent 25 years around universities. The other was Sydney King, a non-graduate matriculated rural high school founder. Nicholson's analysis sent him direct to partition. I had no objection in principle, as I have no objection in principle to divorce if the other choice is domestic oppression. International developments in India and Palestine had recognised partition as an option. Both cases had been approved by the United Nations Organisation. My own sense of Guyana and my experience of working in it among three major race groups was not the same. It was that, in spite of the division, people should be given a chance, through their chosen leaders to sit around the table and arrange how government and authority should be re-organised and shared. This is how partition became 'the last resort,' instead of the first option. When the leaders rejected joint premiership and later the idea of the opposition veto over the government, they left us with one remaining choice. Edged out of office by the logic of racial voting, with PR as a new voting system and the arithmetic of PR, the PPP Leader proposed joint premiership and `constitutional guarantees.'

The PPP's National Patriotic Front (1977) was dead on arrival with the PNC. Of course, it was a sincere, structured proposal, the first of its kind from a political party. It was open to the PPP and the PNC and some minor forces, which accepted `socialist orientation' as the test of membership. `Patriotic businessmen' were to accept this. WPA welcomed the proposal with criticisms. It argued that in systems like those of Eastern Europe where power had passed `forever' to the marxist party, business would accept 'the leading role of the party'. In our situation, they would keep their options open. Finally, the PNC accused the PPP of wanting a piece of the action. They dismissed the proposal through Mr Chandisingh, with an argument. He claimed that if Lenin in Russia before 1917 had united with the Mensheviks (minority) there would have been no revolution.

When the PNC leader in his turn made the 1985 proposal for across party (PNC/PPP) government, why did it fail after Mr Burnham? It seems that the idea of the traditional one-party right to govern according to the Westminster (British) system is even stronger with Mr Hoyte than with his founder leader. "He is of age; ask him," if you wish to know more.

The national dialogue may have crashed on arguments inside the then ruling party, the PNC. The dialogue as proposed by the WPA required correction of the electoral arrangements and `democratisation.' It wanted these matters, along with the `total crisis' first discussed by our own people, rather than laid down by some gifted breed. The motion aimed at removing more than the overseas vote and the proxy excesses and aimed at an Elections Commission not controlled by the government. It aimed at stripping the minister of responsibility for elections, a matter WPA successfully took to the High Court.

The rest is still with us.