I am glad to see Dr Omar Shahabudin McDoom take seriously the vexing problem of ethnic voting in his two-part series under the Diaspora column. He is an expert in conflict studies. Therefore, he has much to say about the problems in Guyana today. It appears like Dr McDoom is in the camp of political science which promotes multi-ethnic parties or centripetal policies to deal with divided societies.
A Guyanese camp going back to the 1980s, and led by Mr. Ravi Dev and Dr. Baytoram Ramharack, recommended consociationalism instead of centripetalism. If we really think through the approaches, there is complementarity in both proposals. Of course, several do-gooders and church goers in Georgetown dismissed the consociationalists, including yours truly, as racist. One columnist wrote us off as being dishonest when we mentioned how difficult it is to measure ethnic distribution of income and wealth.
Like Dr McDoom, I am sympathetic to the idea that the parties need competitive internal elections. Indeed, I wrote several essays on this issue in the past decade, as well as on the topic of how pro-ethnic voting retards economic development. However, the list system enshrined in the Burnham-Shahabuddeen (BS) constitution, promotes a culture of follow the leader and sycophancy. This will make the emergence of multi-ethnic parties difficult because ultimately the constitution requires people to vote for a list and not well-meaning individuals.
The PPP tried centripetalism with the Civic and Mr. Granger attempted same by forming alliances with small parties under APNU+AFC. Urged by Mr. Robert Corbin, communal leader Granger minimized the role of the AFC once he won the election and allowed his chosen elderly ex-army, Afro-Guyanese males to dictate the policy agenda. Mr. Nagamootoo and Mr. Ramjattan essentially went into the alliance without any policy conviction, but with much yearning for status and prados. Communal leader Granger facilitated the long-time Neo-Marxist economist, Prof. Clive Thomas, to suddenly become a neoclassical economist emphasizing efficiency when it comes to reforming GuySuCo. The notion that GuySuCo produces a public good was never considered in the efficiency calculations. Meanwhile, the accounting firm chosen by Granger’s ethno-NICIL to value GuySuCo’s assets is yet to show up.
Like our good friend Mr. Mike Persaud – who organized for Mr. Granger to visit Richmond Hill in 2015 – has argued for years, Dr. McDoom suggests that the PPP put up an Afro-Guyanese candidate and PNC to do the opposite with Indo-Guyanese candidate. Achieving this well-intentioned objective under the BS constitution will be difficult, perhaps impossible, because of the pro-ethnic strategic vote and the expectation of ethno-patronage once the election is over. The group which loses the election will be marginalized by the logic of ex ante patronage that motivated the pro-ethnic strategic vote in the first place, even if the PNC has an Indo-Guyanese candidate or PPP an Afro-Guyanese candidate.
If we consider the strategic vote as a repeated prisoners’ dilemma we might begin to see the straitjacket in which the ethnic voting places Guyana and how it perpetuates an underdevelopment trap. Imagine the payoffs are expectation of patronage income once one’s party wins the election.
I agree at the very minimum there has to be reforms in the two dominant ethno-parties. However, searching for intersection between consociationalism and centripetalism might be the way forward. It is for this reason, I have mentioned a set of necessary and sufficient reforms in several outlets, including columns in Stabroek News. It is for this reason, furthermore, I believe there has to be some form of power sharing and competitive challenge from individuals and multi-ethnic third parties.
If this intersection cannot be achieved, I am not as optimistic that Guyana should wait until everyone intermarries, as seems to be a suggestion in the Diaspora Column. I prefer a more advanced consociationalism in the form of federalism. I know many who refuse to be bullied by the PNC (and its WPA acolytes) and communal leader Granger.