Every present indicator strongly suggests that, at the end of next year’s general elections in Guyana, the Presidency of the country will remain with the Peoples Progressive Party (PPP) which seems certain to win more votes than any other party.
The Constitution of Guyana states that a Presidential candidate shall be deemed to be elected President “if more votes are cast in favour of the list in which he is designated as Presidential candidate than in favour of any other list”. In other words, the successful Presidential candidate requires only a plurality of the votes, not an overall majority.
However, to form the government on its own a political party does require an overall majority. So, even though the PPP could secure the Presidency by winning the most votes, it needs an overall majority to form the government by itself.
Should the PPP fail to get more than 50% of the votes cast, it would be forced to seek support from among other parties to form a coalition government.
The main opposition party, the Peoples National Congress (PNC), which is expected to secure the second largest bloc of votes, would also be compelled to talk with other parties if the possibility exists that, together, their votes comprise more than 50% of the total votes cast.
At the 2006 general elections, the PPP secured 53.39 per cent of the vote, the PNC got 33.4 percent and the Alliance for Change (AFC) won 8 per cent. The remaining 7 parties managed to get only 5.21 per cent between them.
The PPP’s General Secretary, Donald Ramotar, who is among those expected to be the PPP’s candidate for the Presidency, is confident that the PPP will win an overall majority. As the basis for this, he points to the PPP’s increased backing in the last two general elections in administrative regions that were traditionally supportive of the PNC. He attributes these increases to the PPP’s performance which, he says, demonstrates that it delivers services to communities regardless of race. He also states that the PPP is engaged in an active recruitment campaign of new members of all races.
Interestingly, Ramotar regards the AFC’s participation in the next election as a threat to the PNC and, as a consequence, a help to the PPP. He appears convinced that the AFC’s vote comes from disgruntled and disaffected PNC supporters, not from the PPP.
For his part, the leader of the PNC, Robert Corbin, is firmly of the view that “a fragmented PNC and a disunited opposition cannot displace the PPP”. He favours a “broad coalition” of the opposition parties to contest the 2011 election, and he regards a cohesive PNC as important to such a process. In this connection, he laments the present division within the PNC and says: “I consider it an insult after my life-long service in the PNC to have my name besmirched in a baseless rumour that I placed my personal ambition over the party” by doing a deal with Guyana’s current President Bharrat Jagdeo to permit him a constitutionally-barred third term in office. He also repeated to me that “Jagdeo never once raised a third term with me”, and that at all of their meetings note-takers were present.
The notion of a “broad coalition” of opposition parties is shared by Rupert Roopnarine, one of the leaders of the Working Peoples Alliance (WPA) founded by the legendary Walter Rodney. Roopnarine regards the PPP as “defeatable” but only by such a “grand coalition”.
And, there have been informal discussions between representatives of the PNC, the WPA and the AFC about the possibility of such a coalition. Indeed, Corbin states that one of the reasons he has said that he will not be a Presidential candidate for the PNC is that if the coalition is created it will name its own agreed candidate and that person may not come from the PNC.
Within the AFC, however, there is, as yet, no agreement on participation in a coalition of opposition parties. Some in the leadership of the AFC find an alliance with the PNC as hard to swallow as one with the PPP. Certainly Sheila Holder and Kemraj Ramjattan appear keen to maintain the AFC’s individual identity. A meeting of its National Executive Committee, to which I referred in my last commentary, did not agree to rotate its leadership from Raphael Trotman to Ramjattan as expected. Instead, the meeting “reaffirmed its commitment to the principle of rotation of its top two candidates for the 2011 election bid” and deferred the matter to its national convention later this year.
Among the disaffected leadership of the PNC, there are those who appear convinced that the PNC can win the election on its own. The only problem they see is Corbin’s continued leadership of the Party. As they view it, if Corbin would step aside and allow the party to be reenergised and refocused under its former Chairman, Winston Murray, the party would be a viable contestant for both the glittering prize of the Presidency and the government, both of which have eluded them since 1992.
Against this background it is understandable why some of the leaders of the opposition parties consider it desirable to form a grand coalition in advance of the elections to jointly fight the PPP. For, if the PPP does not win an overall majority, it would need a much smaller number of votes to take it over 50 per cent than would the PNC, and doing that deal would be considerably easier than trying to cobble together a coalition of 10 parties (9 opposition parties that contested the last elections plus the WPA that didn’t).
Putting together such a grand coalition is by no means easy. Agreeing on a Presidential candidate may be the least of the problems which will include settling the distribution of parliamentary seats, ministerial portfolios and a set of agreed priority policies and programmes to move the country forward.
While the manoeuvrings within political parties are going on, policies have not risen to the top of debates within the country, but the issues are becoming obvious, among them: a huge gap between “haves” and “have nots”; the need for racial balance in public appointments and crime.
Guyana’s recent economic advancement under Jagdeo has to be developed to provide tangible benefits for all the people. And, the people – particularly the young - will want to hear how and when this will be achieved.