Christmas gifts from the politicians – Commentary – Stabroek News

Editorial – Stabroek News – 25 December 2018

There is little peace and good will in the political arena this season. And that applies not just to Guyana, but also to some of the leading democracies such as the UK, France and, of course, the US, to name a few. There is President Donald Trump whose administration stumbled into farce a long time ago, and which has since been disintegrating into chaos. As has become customary in more recent times, lawmakers agreed a short-term spending compromise to carry the government over into the new year.

However, Mr Trump has refused to sign the bill unless the Senate attaches funding to it for a border wall fence. So far he has adhered to that position, effectively partly shutting down the government, and sending thousands of its workers home without their end-of-year salaries. Apparently he does not remember that the Republicans paid a heavy price for refusing to sign a compromise when President Clinton was in office.             

Then there is his whimsical decision to withdraw American forces from Syria, a move which foreign policy analysts say will make the Middle East vulnerable to the resurgence of Islamic State. It is this, it seems which triggered the resignation of Secretary of Defense James Mattis, the one sane, measured voice in the anarchy which characterises the West Wing. His letter of resignation, in its own civilised way, did not hesitate to express a position critical of the US president, which will do nothing for the mood of his notoriously short-fused boss.

Then there was President Emmanuel Macron of France, who came to office on a high note, and over the past few weeks has been facing violent protests on the streets by those called the ‘yellow vests’, first triggered by the increase in the price of fuel, but coming to cover dissatisfaction with various reforms inaugurated by the government which workers view as anathema to their interests. Part of Mr Macron’s problem was that this movement had no identifiable leaders; it was a spontaneous expression of anger by the French workforce and others. As such, therefore, it was difficult for him to find anyone to negotiate with; however, he has backtracked on the matter of fuel increases, and subsequent to that, some, but not all of his other reforms. He has also agreed with the police unions to give their members an increase, after they expressed anger about their conditions. The protests have since tailed off considerably.

Of all the political leaders mentioned here, the French President is the only one who has displayed a certain flexibility – or, in the view of some commentators dangerous weakness if France is to be reformed.

The most extraordinary developments, or more properly, lack of them are to be found in an old, established democracy, namely the UK. The population there faces Christmas with no clear idea of how the country is going to leave the EU by the end of March 2019, or indeed, if it is going to do so at all. Prime Minister Theresa May has negotiated an agreement with the EU, which was to be put to Parliament for its approval earlier this month, but she retreated from doing so because all the signs were clear that Parliament would have rejected it. The new date is somewhere in the week of January 14. Whether even then she will be able to secure parliamentary approval for it is by no means certain, more especially since her grand tour of Europe has elicited no further concessions from Brussels. She has certainly been trying to mend fences with the hard-line Brexiteers led by Jacob Rees-Mogg, who after leading a revolt against her leadership, now has declared himself her loyal supporter. What would be critical, however, is whether the DUP of Northern Ireland which presently keeps the Conservatives in office, would support it when it comes to the vote. So far it has not done so.

The real problem for the British public is that Mrs May has no Plan B if the deal fails in the House of Commons. Her position is that the only options on offer are her deal or what is called a hard Brexit (crashing out of the EU without any deal), which the business community and what is thought to be a majority of MPs think would be a disaster. In addition to the narrowness of her vision, the Prime Minister has also been accused of trying to manipulate the timetable by postponing the parliamentary vote, putting more pressure on the members to vote in her favour in January. Her intransigence and lack of transparency during the negotiations have also made her an easy target for critics.

One might have thought that the Labour Party would have taken up a clear position on the issue, offering a real alternative, but it is in almost as much disarray as the Conservatives. Mr Jeremy Corbyn, the Opposition Leader, is widely seen as a Eurosceptic, a stance which he confirmed over the weekend, by setting his face against a second referendum. He has made it clear that what he wants is a general election, which he considers he would win. His idea is that following this his party could negotiate a better deal with the EU. He is, of course, living in an imaginary world, because the EU has already stated unequivocally that the best deal Britain can get is the one on offer.

In any case, for there to be a general election Mr Corbyn would have to win a no confidence vote in the government first, which everyone believes is very unlikely, because it would require more than a simple majority. Since the one thing the Labour Party up to yesterday seemed clear about was that it would not support the Prime Minister’s Brexit agreement, a number of senior members said that everything was then on the table, including a second referendum, or what is being called ‘the people’s vote.’ The ‘Remainers’ in the Labour Party, as they are called, are consequently very angry that Mr Corbyn now appears to be reneging on this commitment. However, not everyone in the party would coalesce around a people’s vote; some would even support Mrs May, just as there are a few among the Conservatives who advocate a second referendum.

There have certainly been public demonstrations in support of going back to the people, but the Prime Minister is adamant that she will not allow another referendum; the British people have already spoken, she says. Whether in the end she might be forced to backtrack on that too is very hard to say, and even if she did, it is difficult to predict whether the electorate would really change its mind, and furthermore, change its mind by a significant margin. That said, it would appear to be the only potential route out of an impasse where the politicians cannot agree on how to proceed.

So far in Guyana the local politicians might appear for the moment to be doing a better job than the older established polities usually held up as exemplars of democracy. In the first place, the government has declared it will abide by the result of the vote of no confidence. As things stand, the outcome of a national election in three months’ time is not necessarily as certain as the Leader of the Opposition thinks it would be. It all depends on how many inroads into the Indigenous vote Mr Shuman’s new party − to be launched in mid-January next year − will make.

It might conceivably be the case that demography forces constitutional change and the breaking of a political impasse sooner than anyone expected. That would be a Christmas gift, if somewhat belated, worth having.  

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  • Cyril Persaud  On 12/26/2018 at 6:19 pm

    What propaganda about the government (US) workers not getting paid before the end of the year.

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