By Ronald Austin
On May 11, after the highest turnout since 1997, the National and Regional Elections of 2015 caused the first change of government in Guyana since 1992. And the political entity which narrowly toppled the PPP administration was a coalition of multiethnic parties.
The expectation was that this coalition, in defeating the PPP, would rearrange Guyana’s political and ethnic furniture in such a way that the back of racial voting would have been broken.
The final results clearly demonstrate this did not happen.
In fact, after a divisive, bitter, racially charged campaign the Guyanese people seem to remain in their respective racial laagers. The results bear an uncanny resemblance to those of 2011 with the PPP this time in the minority and the coalition capturing the presidency and National Assembly.
The difference is again one single seat.
But PPP was triumphant in its traditional areas of support; it in fact increased its support in all regions by 35, 808 votes with the exception of Region 4. The Coalition swept the urban centres and they too increased their votes by 31, 808 votes; they too increased their votes in every region except Region 6.
Now every Guyanese knows that regions four and six are the areas where the Indo-Guyanese and Afro-Guyanese predominate, respectively. In short, there is no breakthrough; we have another racial census.
Western embassies, which played a highly visible role in these elections, having noted how racially divided the nation had become, called for healing in these words: “It is our hope that President Granger will work to repair the divisions in Guyana society that have emerged during the election period and will work to promote inclusive governance and national development in the best interests of all of the people of Guyana.”
David Granger, with whom I have discussed the effect of race on the overall development of Guyana, recognized the elections left a bitter legacy. At his swearing in he committed to governing in the interests of all Guyanese. But will he find a willing partner in the PPP, which lost by a mere 5,360 votes?
The prospects are not good.
That party is yet to concede defeat. It has given voice to the view that the elections were rigged against them and is considering an Election Petition.
Most people, including the international observers and civil society, have said the PPP’s contention is misplaced. But Freedom House will not relent. This is a dangerous situation which will make it difficult for Granger to govern efficiently, harmoniously and effectively.
For Guyana to proceed along a path to real and sustained development there must be consensus between the two main ethnic groups or the main political parties. Our history has taught us this is an unarguable desideratum.
Guyana is not normal polity. It harbors two large ethnic groups and it is very difficult for one to govern without the other. Dr. Jagan encountered this reality and several of his governments foundered against it.
Mr. Burnham, as deft a politician as he was, found that after 28 years he had to face the same reality and he tried to cobble together a coalition with the PPP in 1985.
Now Granger has to try to govern Guyana in the face of a dissatisfied party which won 49.4% of the votes and is therefore an unlikely partner in the development of the nation.
Jagan, Burnham and Hoyte were tempted to go it alone and it did not work.
Granger, an avid and informed student of Guyana’s history, must know he can only succeed if he makes a reality of his promise to run an inclusive democracy in which is domiciled all the main political forces of Guyana.
Ronald Austin lives in Guyana and is a former Guyanese ambassador to Beijing.