The upcoming elections will allow over 600,000 persons (approximately 80 per cent of the population) to elect leaders for the next five years. There is a consensus among citizens, politicians, and social commentators that these elections will be the most critical in our post-colonial history. I fully support this view since the leaders we elect will either help us to leapfrog with our newly found oil resource or slip pass countries that managed this resource for the benefit of a small elite group (eg, Papua New Guinea, Angola, etc).
With oil wealth, we can modernise the traditional sectors, move to value-added activities, and place the country in a position where it can thrive and compete with countries like Singapore in the fourth industrial revolution. However, this necessitates sound management of the oil resource. This, in turn, requires, at a minimum, a robust legal and regulatory regime for the oil and gas sector, a modern Local Content Policy and a development paradigm that will deliver sustainable development to ensure the people of the country enjoy maximum benefits. In all the existing development strategies, the NDC, LCDS, NCS, oil does not feature. Therefore, we need to refine the current development paradigms to include oil or create a new development paradigm for a future with and without oil.
The tasks mentioned above are by no means simple. They will require the best persons (within and outside Guyana) with the relevant experience and track record of crafting and implementing laws as well as policies and strategies. The group of leaders cannot just be fresh faces with youthful energy. These leaders must have experience and a track record to convince us they can do the tasks required.
When I examine the small parties, I am not convinced they fit the bill. Most of the members are not known for any significant accomplishment (note singular, because I don’t know of one accomplishment). They just showed up on the scene for our votes. The only message from the small parties, thus far, is that we should vote for them because voting for the PPPC and PNC is terrible. While they may have a point, the electorate is more interested in the plans and track record and experience of the candidates. Hopefully, the small parties will include these issues during the campaign season, if they are serious about garnering votes on March 2, 2020. They can also help by joining with every decent-minded Guyanese to ensure that the 2020 elections are free and fair and free from fear.
Based on the performance of small parties in the past, I am sure they will not attract significant votes in 2020. Our history is devoid of any evidence that small parties have made any substantial contribution to Guyana’s development. The first attempt by a small party to influence our development occurred in the 1960s when the TUF joined forces with the PNC. History will confirm the coalition of the TUF and PNC paved the way for a dictatorship that lasted for 28 years, where party paramountcy was practiced openly to the detriment of our development. After a long break, the AFC was formed to the excitement of many young first-time voters. This party was supposed to take the politics in Guyana beyond race since it was formed by two relatively young leaders of the major parties who signalled they wanted a better Guyana for all. There was so much excitement among young and even some old electors, the AFC captured significant votes when they contested elections on its own. However, in and out of office, the AFC failed miserably.
In opposition, the AFC joined with the PNC to cut the budgets and block initiatives like the Amaila Fall Hydro Project and Specialty Hospital Project. During this period, they failed to put forward any new legislation or initiative to advance our development. The AFC subsequently formed a union with the PNC to contest the 2015 elections. In return, the AFC was rewarded crucial Ministries (Natural Resource, Public Infrastructure, Public Security, Ministry of Business, and Ministry of Telecommunication) and the position of Prime Minister. In Government, their elected members failed to push any significant legislation through Parliament or managed their sectors effectively. As a matter of fact, we have seen an upsurge in crime, prison fires, mismanagement of infrastructure projects bequeathed by the PPP (airport expansion, Sheriff Street expansion etc), increased bankruptcy across business sectors, and allegations of corruption at the Ministries controlled by AFC. The AFC members also stood quietly in Government when the sugar workers were sent home without their severance, and citizens were taxed to death, causing one member to join the PPP/C to topple the Government by way of a no-confidence vote.
Before the no-confidence vote, the elected members of the AFC performed so poorly the party lost significant support during the local Government elections in 2018. The only remaining hope for the AFC is to cling onto the PNC for relevance. The AFC, which offered the best prospect for a third force, failed, notwithstanding, they had members with extensive political experience.
The upcoming elections have a significant number of voters who were bitten by the AFC and UF. They are familiar with the history of the United Force (UF) which opened the doors for a dictatorship and a repetition of this sordid history by the AFC in 2015. I am sure these voters will express some shyness in electing any new small party as a third force. As the saying goes, they are once bitten twice shy.
Editor, in closing, these elections will be about our post-colonial history, plans, experience, and track record rather than emotional speeches and social media posts. At the end of the election cycle, there will be a Government with a majority in Parliament to lead Guyana. Only the PNC or PPP/C will form that Government. There will not be any splitting of votes come March 2, 2020. The electorates have the option to choose between PPP/C with a plan and list of candidates who have the experience/track record or the PNC, which has no plan, poor track record, and history of ruling with an iron fist.