Guyana presidential elections now over, there’s an anxious wait for the result. It can be a close call, or a far cry from the one-seat-majority norm that plagued previous parliaments following recent elections.
Guyana three times larger than England (83,000 square miles) and votes to be counted across regions as far flung and apart as needing to be flown, driven and transported by river or across mountains by foot, votes cast in hinterland areas will take longer to arrive for the final count.
It was yet another straight fight between the two main political parties – the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) and the People’s National Congress (PNC), each aligned to a coalition partner, the PPP with its Civic component, the PNC leading A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) with the Alliance for Change (AFC).
NOT ALL THE SAME…
Everything was the same, say some who closely observed the campaign forced by the APNU/AFC alliance having lost its one-seat majority in the National Assembly on December 21, 2018 after the opposition won a No Confidence Motion by one vote.
But not everything was really the same this time around.
The issue on every party and voter’s mind this time that was nowhere on the agenda the last time they went to the polls was not the economics or declining national incomes from sugar, rice or bauxite, not how best to share existing growing gold and diamond wealth, but oil.
Parties and political leaders promised, not to pull Guyana out of the mire of poverty it sank into after sugar lost its sweetness, but to in different ways share what the International Monetary Fund (IMF) estimates will register 86% GDP growth in 2020 through oil revenues – the highest ever by any country in world history.
IT’S ALL ABOUT THE OIL…
Not that the parties ignored local politics, or that race, religion and culture didn’t play their part in how Guyanese voted Monday; or that the parties didn’t go after each other with swords and daggers in all the marked trenches.
But it was all about the oil, much deserved hype having been made about the country’s recent export of its first million barrels at a time when it was also emerging that the country could have signed up to a US$500Billion loss on a deal it signed in the dark without the full extent of its actual size and total value having been brought to light.
It was difficult to get even the most celebrated Caribbean pollsters to venture any prediction; and no poll findings were published ahead of the vote.
Not even Guyanese abroad dared or cared to venture predictions or express their wishes for any party to be the victor.
In this day and age when information is at everyone’s fingertips some even claimed not to have ‘the facts on the ground’, their real reluctance instead having more to do with not wanting to be proven wrong.
But there’s reason.
Elections in Guyana have a long history that extends way beyond its borders, even producing a BBC Panorama documentary featuring investigative reports suggesting horses may have voted in a highly controversial poll back in the 1970s.
The army was also once accused of intervening in a local government election, with published photographs of soldiers carrying ballot boxes.
But such embarrassing electoral excesses were eventually cleaned-up and 1992 saw the first acknowledged democratic electoral change of government after 28 years, the PPP/Civic taking office after almost three decades in the political wilderness.
MOTHER AND FATHER OF ALL…
Fast Forward another 28 years, when the two major parties led their respective campaigns for The Mother and Father of All Guyana Elections in 2020 after sharing successive one-term governments.
Both have transitioned from the parties they used to be under Cheddi Jagan and Forbes Burnham, respectively.
In the 1980s, joint opposition calls for a Patriotic Coalition for Democracy (PCD) largely fell on deaf government ears and a photo opportunity of a meeting between the two maximum leaders was a very rare expectation.
But under President David Granger and ex-President Bharrat Jagdeo, the two parties met as Government and Opposition following the 2018 No Confidence Motion to offer joint assurances on issues ranging from protection of territorial integrity to preservation of constitutional authority, until elections.
Guyanese naturally have high expectations that high revenues from oil will filter down the pipelines to their pockets, the APNU/AFC administration having reportedly commissioned respected economist Clive Thomas to find a working formula.
But in all the excitement about which party will lead the transformation of the once-poorest CARICOM nation to its richest, some historical and actual truisms ignored on the campaign trail will inevitably haunt whichever new government emerges from Monday’s poll.
Guyana is entering the oil world at a time when trends are trending away from fossil fuels.
Exxon, Hess and China’s national oil company are among the lead investors in its oil and even while the contract is heavily tilted in their interest, recent revelations that Exxon may have misled the government and/or inveigled it into signing a smaller contract for a bigger deal are matters that the next Guyana government will have to face, one way or another.
Fact is, in very few exceptions (like Libya under Gadaffi), revenue benefits do not trickle-down directly to citizens of oil-rich nations.
Contracts today are always between experienced multinationals and governments, based on deals involving everything from long-term extraction exclusivity to investors benefiting from exclusive royalties and special arrangements, including receipts for taxes not paid.
ExxonMobil, as the world’s most powerful oil company with decades of accumulated experience in playing local politics in scores of countries, will also have invested in how best to play its Guyana cards well ahead of Monday’s poll, hedging bets without hedging funds — and even possibly supporting both major parties if projections didn’t allow for a definite call.
And then there’s the reality that people and countries don’t simply change overnight.
VICTORS AND VANQUISHED…
One party (or side) will win and the other will lose; and while the victors thank the people, the vanquished will cry both foul and fowl. But no matter when announced, the final result will bring a new Guyana government with all the same old problems.
Rice and sugar exports and incomes will remain the same and there’ll be no change either in the prices of cocoa, coffee or tea.
The only difference will be that Guyana’s politics will continue henceforth to be lubricated by political discourse about the economics of oil and the socio-economic factors associated with the inevitable intercourse between petrodollars and people in nations emerging from the periphery of persistent poverty.
HOPEFUL OR HOPELESS?
Naysayers will point to model failures and cases of excessive enrichment of emerging minorities from within local political and/or family elites in developing nations that either recently broke free from colonial rule and/or finally took control of their oil wealth.
Others will understandably bow to the uncertainty of a wait-and-see approach to decide whether to become hopeful or remain hopeless.
Those beaten, bruised and burned will continue to bear their scars and/or nurse their wounds, and it will take more than just talk for them to even try to erase the pain for the national gain.
Guyana’s post Burnham-Jagan era has produced some notable shifts in political tides and currents that have seen bitter enemies become close friends while professed friends-of-all and enemies-of-none seek ways and means to position themselves as kingmakers should the two old horses again gallop across the finishing line with noses a hair’s breadth from the tape.
But the Guyana that produced Cheddi and Janet Jagan, Forbes Burnham and Walter Rodney and which transitioned from Bharrat Jagdeo and Donald Ramotar to Desmond Hoyte and David Granger, also has among its sons and daughters those on all sides of the political and economic, racial, cultural, social and other divides willing and able to dig deep and try their best to overcome historical divisions and embrace new challenges and opportunities to build the elusive New Guyana that all have promised and worked toward.
Oil or not, what will matter after the next Government of Guyana takes office is the extent to which the political and executive leadership are prepared to suck salt and bite the bullet — from Day One — to use this rare but wide window of opportunity to ensure all of Guyana’s five peoples and nine Amerindian nations in ten districts unite around a common goal of ensuring enough fresh breeze flows through all its three main rivers and across all three counties, before the next usual but unexpected thunderstorms of global petroleum trade hits.
OIL ON FIRE
Oil is literally on fire in Libya today and Saudi Arabia is selling shares in ARAMCO while introducing taxes. China, Russia and Iran are standing with Venezuela, which has by far the most certified oil reserves worldwide and is also naturally concerned about Exxon’s exploits in disputed waters still subject to potentially troublesome international judicial arbitration.
Besides, those and other nations are actively working to replace the American dollar as the currency in which oil is traded.
The continuing crisis in Yemen continues to make Saudi oil facilities vulnerable and events after the recent US assassination of top Iranian and Iraqi generals have rendered American soldiers and facilities more vulnerable than ever before.
The US has all eyes on Venezuela’s endless reserves, which, if successfully harnessed alongside Guyana’s by Exxon and its other North American partners, will have conquered new worlds of wealth – and so much closer to home.
The next Government of Guyana will have two chances — before the end of March — to state where the country stands on Washington’s plans for Venezuela.
First will be when CARICOM member-states attend talks in Mexico to discuss the non-interventionist Montevideo Mechanism brokered by Uruguay and Mexico, then at the March 21 meeting of the Organization of American States (OAS) in Washington, when and where the US will be counting on CARICOM support to secure the re-election of its preferred candidate, current Secretary General Luis Almagro, for a second term.
CARICOM nations, including Guyana, are being lobbied to vote against the candidate nominated by two fellow member-states (Antigua & Barbuda and St. Vincent & the Grenadines), seasoned Ecuadorean diplomat and former UN General Assembly President Maria Fernandez Espinoza, in favour of Washington’s man.
With US presidential elections in November and an increasingly unpredictable President Donald Trump still holding military intervention as his trump card on the negotiating table regarding Venezuela, Guyana’s next government will also have to face the fire of possibly eventually being called upon by Washington to allow use of Guyana’s territory (land, sea or air) to pursue interventionist Pentagon objectives across its borders.
But this is also the Guyana that produced E.R. Brathwaite, the author of ‘To Sir With Love’, the book that spurred the movie that so tellingly told the story of how racial tolerance and intolerance could coexist in Britain; which birthed Ivan Van Sertima, who let the world know, quite early, that Africans came this way long before Columbus; and gave life to the likes of writers and researchers like David Dabydeen, who, while Guyana’s Ambassador to the People’s Republic of China (PRC), also trekked to Xiamen City in Fujian province, from whence cometh the ordinary migrant parents of Guyana’s first President, Arthur Chung.
The minds and the will for positive, progressive and sustainable change exist in Guyanese at home and abroad.
It still remains, however, for these basic and essential ingredients to be oiled together, an elusive task that can – yet again – be overcome if only the victors don’t see and treat the vanquished as losers, but instead as essential partners in the process of national reconstruction, together aiming for one victory at a time, all the time!