Guyana Politics: New Political Parties in 2020 Elections – Stabroek News Editorial

Stabroek News Editorial – 22 December 2019

Last week we reported that fourteen new parties had applied to GECOM for symbols to contest the 2020 general and regional elections. This brings to 19 the total of political parties which applied before the December 13 deadline. Despite this large number, there are at least four, which although contestants in the 2015 poll are not entering the lists on this occasion.

These include the TUF, which the older generation will know better as the UF (United Force). Their presidential candidate the last time was Ms Marissa Nadir, the daughter of former leader of the party, Mr Manzoor Nadir, who had taken it into alliance with the PPP/C and held ministerial portfolios in more than one administration.     

That alliance, however, saw the demise of the TUF as an independent political entity, especially after May 2011, when Mr Nadir resigned the leadership and Ms Valerie Garrido-Lowe took over the party. A hiatus between the two saw the TUF split, and while Mr Nadir subsequently was to become a member of the PPP, Ms Garrido-Lowe for her part joined the AFC prior to the last election. Under the circumstances, Ms Marissa Nadir, could not succeed.

So now we have come to what might be described as the official extinction of the (T)UF which once briefly played a crucial role in Guyana’s history, and for a time was the only viable third political entity outside the PPP and PNC. Founded by Peter D’Aguiar, the managing director of his family’s company now known as Banks DIH, the UF very much represented business interests and was virulently anti-communist, and by definition, therefore, anti-PPP. While that was its primary character, it also eventually secured Indigenous support facilitated by Stephen Campbell, making possible the inclusion of what would now be termed Amerindian land rights in the constitutional discussions prior to independence.

The UF’s heyday came, if such it can be called, when it joined the PNC in a coalition after the 1964 election. The condition of that alliance was that D’Aguiar would hold the portfolio of Minister of Finance, but the arrangement was not a success both because Leader of the PNC Forbes Burnham and the UF Leader neither liked nor trusted each other, and because their ideological stances were not in accord. Burnham’s political disposition was definitely considerably to the left of that of D’Aguiar. The latter resigned his post in 1967 and opposed the fraudulence of the 1968 election when Burnham decided to drop the UF and go it alone. D’Aguiar resigned from active politics in 1969, and from then on the party moved in fits and starts along a path of slow decline.

During the period of PNC rule there were not a great number of parties outside the two political titans, the only one having some durability from that period being the WPA, which struggled against PNC rule in the late 1970s and 1980s. It has never enjoyed electoral success, however, and even it has now been subsumed under the APNU umbrella, something those on the barricades forty years’ ago would never have considered possible.

The soil of the post-1992 period proved far more congenial to new political plants, but as Mr Ralph Ramkarran explained in his column in this newspaper two months ago, small parties still confront an uphill task in mounting an electoral challenge. He wrote: “They are required to present a list of candidates comprising 65 members, 30 per cent of whom must be women. The list must be supported by the signatures of 300 members of the electorate.  As part of the general, not regional elections, in which the ten regions are converted into ‘constituencies,’ of the 10 ‘constituencies’ at least 6, comprising at least 13 members, must be contested. Each list must be supported by the signatures of 120 members of the electorate. In relation to the regional elections, no party is required to contest elections in any region.”

It is these burdensome rules, he said, which account for the decline in the number of small parties contesting the elections since 2006, a change to which can only be accomplished by constitutional reform. He refers to a return to a constituency system with suitable amendments to cater for proportionality, something which had been recommended by the Constitution Reform Commission since 1999-2000. However, the APNU+AFC government, he went on to say, did not choose to implement what was an unopposed reform proposal.

In the meantime we now have nineteen small parties, not all of which, it should be said, might actually contest the poll, given the constraints. It is difficult to know why so many of them are of the view that they can secure sufficient votes to send a representative to Parliament.  For the most part they are strangers to the electorate, in addition to which the leaders and senior representatives of many of them are also not known. The most successful of the small parties in recent times has unquestionably been the AFC, which has been compared to the old UF in terms of its growth and ability to attract votes, if not its decision to coalesce with a party whose central core represented the PNCR.

It has to be said, however, that the two founding members of that party were both very well-known political figures, one each from either side of our famous divide. In the climate of 2015 that was seen as a break from the old ethno-political straitjacket, more particularly as it came with a promise of constitutional reform, which it has yet to deliver on.  Given its failure to implement its manifesto commitments and its total identification with APNU policies and governance, it remains to be seen whether its future trajectory will follow a line not widely dissimilar from that of its predecessor, the (T)UF.

It is the failings of the AFC, perhaps, which might have given this plethora of sometimes Lilliputian political entities hope that they could appeal to the ‘floating’ constituency they believe the larger party has betrayed. It is conceivable that some of them too may believe that the coming oil economy opens opportunities for politicians to improve the lot of Guyanese which were not there before. The leaders quite clearly are convinced that they have the answers to Guyana’s problems − constitutional, political and economic − and most have little patience with the deficiencies of their predecessors. Their problem will be persuading sceptical voters most of whom have sought security in ethnic government, that they should do something revolutionary and trust them, especially if little is known about their credentials. Some may be more realistic in their expectations, and are just seeking to secure a seat or two in Parliament which they will later build on as they become better established. Even that, however, may prove a challenge in several cases.

Organisation for the Victory of the People and the United Republican Party which are not newcomers aside, obtaining information on fledgling parties whose names do not trip off the tongue and which have not had a formal launch is not always easy. If they don’t make themselves known, simply no one will vote for them. And a letter in the newspaper, as at least one has been tempted to do, is not the preferred way to go if a party wants to spread its message.

Similarly, as mentioned earlier, the better known parties are inevitably those where the leadership already has a profile in the public mind, as was the case with the early AFC. As such, ANUG with Ralph Ramkarran et al, is not a mystery, and neither is the Liberty and Justice Party, not because Lenox Shuman is easily recognised, so much as because he is appealing to the Indigenous vote, introducing a new ethnic dimension into the political equation. Whether he can replicate what Stephen Campbell did, however, remains entirely to be seen. The names of Messrs Badal and Hinds of Change Guyana will not sound alien to urban voters, but whether that extends throughout the length of the Republic cannot be said. The same may possibly apply to the Citizen Initiative, whose frontline spokesperson is Ruel Johnson, well known in artistic circles.

There are some parties which appear to be directing their programmes to specialised constituencies, such as the Berbice lawyers of the Federal United Party who have decided to contest Regions Five and Six, where they presumably anticipate they will have more success than if they tried to appeal to the nation as a whole. There is too the Guyana United Democratic Party, which seems to be targeting the Indian population, bucking the trend in most of the other parties, quite a few of which are looking at shared governance in one form or another. Then there is The New Movement, which advertises itself as a party of professionals. Both its presidential and prime ministerial candidates are drawn from the health sector, and while they will perhaps have recognition there, they cannot rely on that filtering out to the electorate as a whole, even if the latter is persuaded that doctors are the best people to run the country.

If all or even most of these nineteen parties go forward, and as stated earlier, there is no clarity on that at this stage, the voters will be faced with a multitude of choices.  As such, one can safely assume that many of them will fall by the wayside, as has been the fate of the majority of their predecessors.

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  • kamtanblog  On December 23, 2019 at 3:33 am

    Simple Simon says

    Too many cooks …spoil the pot.
    Vote for the individual whose ideas you
    support not their parties BS.
    It is hypocritical when elected members
    later support party not their voters who supported them.
    Also compulsory voting in future elections
    way forward.
    Fine for non voters to fund elections not taxpayers monies.


  • Lorraine  On December 23, 2019 at 9:19 am

    What a bunch of horse manure!!! I cannot wait to see the Circus that this election is going to be.

  • the only  On December 23, 2019 at 6:14 pm


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