By Dr, David Hinds
After the controversial declaration of the Indian dominated-PPP as the winner of Guyana’s March 2, 2020 elections, many expected a resort to protests by supporters of the outgoing African-dominated APNU+AFC Coalition. But this did not materialize. Many of the Coalition supporters took to social media instead to vent their anger against the decision by their leadership to concede a race which they thought they had won. For its part, the leadership remained uncharacteristically quiet. There was speculation that the leader, David Granger, would step down, but this t0o did not materialize.
On the other hand, the new government quickly went into its strides and began to act like a party with a mission. It immediately rearranged the top brass of the police force, an institution that is not known to be particularly loyal to the PPP. The government then moved in earnest to remove dozens of political appointees from their jobs in government agencies. It gave them 36 hours to vacate government housing. Within two days it appointed a four-man committee of party sympathizers to conduct audits of several government agencies, ostensibly to unearth suspected corruption by the outgoing administration. A government minister of the outgoing Coalition reported that a PPP member threatened her life.
There were muted celebrations by PPP supporters, even though there has been undisguised triumphalism on social media. While the inauguration of the new president was replete with pomp and ceremony, it was not accompanied by large crowds, probably due to the pandemic. The new cabinet was unveiled but many of the PPP stalwarts were mpnot among the ministers. They have been replaced with a cadre of new and younger party members. But significantly, former president Bharrat Jagdeo returned as First Vice President. Many view him as the king behind the throne.
What then is next for Guyana? My sense is that the PPP, buoyed by the widespread support from the international community, would in the coming weeks intensify its stampede. Its objective is to recast the government and state in its own image. This would invariably lead to an agenda of ethno-political domination that would take the country back to the dark days of pre-2015. On the economic front, they have already signaled an intention to reopen the sugar estates which were closed by the previous government. It is common knowledge that the sugar industry has been a drain on the rest of the economy because of the enormous government subsidy required to keep it afloat. The workers in the industry are predominantly Indian Guyanese supporters of the PPP,. So the party has a political interest in that regard. Obviously, it would have to use much of the coming oil revenue to effect the subsidy – a move that is sure to have ethnic implications.
The election has left the country on the edge as far as ethnic relations are concerned. Not since the ethnic disturbances of the 1960s have race relations been so bad. I do not see a toning down of the temperature anytime soon. In fact, should the PPP continue along the path it has embarked on, it would soon provoke reactions from the African Guyanese community with or without the direction of their leadership. This would not be a particularly good sign.
Much was said about the need for constitutional reform before the declaration of the winner of the election. It is widely felt that there is need to change the constitution to reflect a need for the ethnic groups and their parties to share power. I do not think the PPP would put this extremely high on its agenda. The party has since 1992 resist attempts to pull it in that direction. Despite lip service to “inclusivity,” I am pessimistic that a commitment beyond cosmetic gestures to the opposition would ensue.
As far as the opposition is concerned, the major party in the coalition, the PNC has to first settle its internal leadership problem. There is a considerable body of opinion both in and out of the party, that David Granger should step aside. Many view his stewardship of the government as less than sterling; he has been accused of being too soft and aloof among other things. The party machinery seems to be in shambles and morale is low. But for the time being, there seems to be a consensus that he should remain at the helm in the short term. My sense is that this is partly due to the fact that the contenders for the top spot cannot rally around one candidate.
They are expected in the coming weeks to file an election petition and demand an early hearing. But beyond that, they have not announced a clear strategy. For, example would they take up their seats in the National Assembly? If so, what would be the parliamentary agenda? Will they resort to street protests? What would be the reaction to the PPP’s aggressive posture in government? Would they recognize the government as legitimate? These and other questions are unanswered at this point. But the answers to them would determine what happens in the country in the next few months.
( Guyana-born Dr. David Hinds is an associate professor in social studies at Arizona State University.)