“In Guyana: political negotiations an opportunity for real democracy” By Sir Ronald Sanders
The governing People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP) and the opposition parties in Guyana are locked in a unique governance struggle in which two combined opposition parties command the majority in the legislature and, thus, can block legislation introduced by the government.
The two opposition parties in the legislature are: A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) and the Alliance for Change (AFC). APNU is itself a coalition of political parties, mainly the Peoples National Congress (PNC) and the Working Peoples Alliance (WPA). In combination, APNU and the AFC have a one-vote majority over the governing PPP and, upon occasion, they have used the one-vote majority to stop government legislation and spending to which they object and to demand changes that they favour. The process has been acrimonious as each party tries to win public support for the positions it adopts toward legislation.
For sure, none of the political parties in Guyana’s legislature will ever stop hoping for an overall majority and, undoubtedly, they will continue working toward that objective. But, to do so, there will have to be a radical change in the politics, policies and programmes of the PPP and PNC – not least would be broadening the base of the supporters to whom they appeal.
Historically, the PPP has cultivated its principal support among the people of East-Indian extraction while the PNC (the main party in APNU) has sought its main backing from the people of African ancestry. Neither of these two main ethnic groups in Guyana is now numerous enough to give either party an overall majority; each would have to broaden its base significantly and that process will take time. Even if the process is launched now, it certainly won’t produce benefits for the next general election due by December 2016.
The success of the AFC in securing representation in Guyana’s parliament is an indicator that there is a significant number of people who see little national benefit in race-based politics. Certainly, the younger generation of Guyana (and there is now a significant number of the population under 35), show a greater tendency not only to racial tolerance but also to integration. Like everywhere else, they also want change from the entrenched politics that has dominated the country.
The democratic experiment in Guyana of a ruling party that does not control the majority in the legislature is experiencing its most severe test so far over Anti-Money Laundering and Counter Terrorism Financing legislation. The Guyana government is required to achieve the adoption of this legislation by Parliament as the initial measure to avoid black-listing by the Geneva-based Financial Action Task Force (FATF) for non-compliance with rules it set and which have been accepted by the powerful governments of the world as international standards. As a former Chairman (2003-2004) and before that Vice Chairman (2001-2002) of the Caribbean Financial Action Task Force (CFATF) that conducted a review of Guyana’s situation and found it deficient, I understand fully the adverse implications for Guyana’s financial services sector, businesses, and even ordinary citizens of the legislation not being adopted as a first step in a raft of compliance machinery that Guyana is required to implement.
The passage of the legislation is enmeshed in the power struggle between the governing PPP and the two opposition parties in the legislature, APNU and AFC. All parties recognise the importance to the country of Guyana not being designated as “non-cooperative” and, therefore, blacklisted internationally. The opposition parties are, therefore, pressing the government to deliver on demands they have made that are not related to the anti-money laundering legislation (although some amendments have been suggested) as the principal condition of agreeing to it. The government on the other hand is relying on both international pressure and the rightful anxiety of the private sector to cause the opposition parties to pass the legislation without their ancillary demands being satisfied.
At the time of writing, the negotiations between the government and the opposition show no sign of an early resolution. These negotiations will be the biggest test of the political parties to operate Guyana’s new form of democratic governance in the national interest. It is time for maturity on all sides to work for balance and compromise. It is no longer business as usual.