Will the PPP win in 2015?

In the land of the blind, one-eye man is king…

From now until May 11, some of us will contemplate the answer to this question with much fear, hope or a combination of both.

Will the People’s Progressive Party (PPP)win? Or will they lose?

Before I answer this, I believe it is worth clarifying where I stand: I am the Bharrat who stands in the middle. It is true that I am not pro-Government. Unfortunately, this statement seems to be synonymous with “I am anti-Government” or “I am pro-Opposition”. I am none of these things. I, Bharrat, am pro-Guyanese.

Those on my left believe that – given the degree of exposure suffered by the PPP – the ruling party will fall. However, a condition which seems necessary for this is a coalition between the two main opposing parties. These people are not necessarily fearful of another PPP win but they intensely hope and, in some cases, believe that the ruling party will lose.

On my right, there are those who trust that A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) and the Alliance for Change (AFC) have sufficiently ruined their own images. If they could not capitalize on a hung Parliament then how will they make a coalition work? This is the question I hear the people on my right asking no one in particular with some hope in their voices. These people hope intensely for a PPP win and are very fearful of any other outcome. Fear makes people unstable; it makes them suffer.

During my months of bad health and worse silence, I listened intently to those around me. Many older Guyanese are still choking on rice flour bake and roti and the choking syndrome has been inherited, unwillingly for the most part, by their descendants.

Only tonight I was told that the “National Mood” is indicative of a PPP loss. However, I believe that what shows itself as a National Mood are things that we are able to see or feel in some way; things that have been let or leaked into the open. But what about those things which are carefully guarded? And never voiced?

It is all too easy to see the ocean’s surface but we must dive beneath the waves and become intimately acquainted with those powerful undercurrents that carry truth.

As it is now, I believe there is a higher chance of a PPP win than of a PPP fall.

In this worry of win and lose, all I can think of is whether the outcome, whatever it may be, will be best for our people; our Guyanese brothers and sisters. There are few men and women among politicians whom I perhaps can bring myself to trust but they are certainly not enough for a Cabinet and do not all come from the same camp.

While I do understand the fear that weighs on the hearts of men and women who could be my mother and father or my Nani and Nana, I sincerely hope that they can bring themselves to fight the fear.

We must recognize that politicians rise to power with our blessing and upon our shoulders. We, the people, give them power and we most certainly can strip them of it. This year can perhaps be the year Guyanese win if we learn to use our own powers; if we learn to put politicians in their place.

Without Wax,

Bharrat.

For Tribe or Country

“My name is… Bharrat. I am an East Indian Guyanese…” (The beginning of a Primary School composition in the early 90s).

The relative of a high ranking public official engaged me in conversation on January 15, 2014. We spoke briefly about the connotations of a certain word. They believe the word is an insult to Guyana and Indians. “…the beloved country you are fighting for is being insulted by it [the word] including yourself, whom I suspect has some trace of Indian heritage,” they said.

This was not my first experience of being othered. Sadly, many have decided that I simply cannot be only of Indian heritage because the views I have expressed in earlier articles seem to be anti-Indian. Some more creative minds have dubbed me “the anti-coolie coolie woman”. I can explain this reaction in one word: tribalism.

“I am a descendant of Indians. I come from a traditional Hindu, Indian, PPP [People’s Progressive Party] family,” I explained. They said nothing.

On December 19, 1950 the Waddington Commission reported:

“Race is a patent difference and is a powerful slogan ready to the hand of unscrupulous men who can use it as a stepping stone to political power. Race too, is easily identifiable with nationalism which in recent years has been emergent among all colonial peoples…. The Indians, too, derive from an ancient culture of their own, and some among them may be inclined to pay homage to their heritage merely as a cover under which to condone racial attitudes.” (quoted in History of the People’s National Congress, p. 6)

Even a brief examination of Guyana’s political history will reveal that racism has been used to engulf our nation in flames that burn to this very day. In The Ashes of Cheddi and Burnham, I note that these two leaders have become respective icons for Guyanese of Indian and African heritage. As a result, the PPP and the People’s National Congress (PNC) are associated with Indian and African power, respectively. Our political machinery has effectively divided us. We are tribes, armed with the vote, in a power struggle.

Being of Indian heritage and having lived the Indian experience, I can only speak of my own encounters with tribalism. I am not anti-Indian. I am anti-tribalism. I value my heritage. I recognize that it is part of the whole that is Bharrat. But I also know that it does not define me. My ethnicity is not my identity. I am not Indian. I am Guyanese.

The PPP and PNC cannot be blamed for the genesis of this tribal based political system. However, each (whether consciously or unconsciously) has surely played its part in maintaining the tribal mentality. The continued survival of tribal mentality means political power for a selected few. It means that we (the people) do not realize our own power. It means that we give our votes too cheaply.

Language is the most powerful weapon which the politician wields. With language, the politician manipulates our rational and emotional spheres. With language, he plants fear in our minds. He uses fear to maintain the tribal mentality, the tribal system. He teaches us to fear anything that is not of the tribe. He teaches us that he is necessary for the tribe’s survival.

In a recent study (The Undercurrents of Guyanese Political Rhetoric: Linguistic Manipulation and Power), I examined two speeches (one by former president Bharrat Jagdeo and the other by current Speaker of the National Assembly Raphael Trotman) from the 2011 General Elections rallies held at Albion, Berbice. The primary aim was to determine if and how the speakers used language to manipulate listeners in order to gain or maintain political power. Here is an excerpt of the analysis:

“Allusion

I know that many of you are just discovering how wonderful this country is and particularly those who left Guyana when times were hard, they come back and it’s a rediscovery process. (NCNNewsGuyana, “PPPC Rally – Albion”)

Allusion serves as a powerful tool in Jagdeo’s speech to transmit and reinforce political ideology by creating fear of past conditions. This ideology or perceived truth which is accepted as common sense knowledge “legitimize(s) the existing power relation” (Fairclough 1989, 33) between the party and the audience (a section of the electorate).

By alluding to “when times were hard”, Jagdeo is referring to the era under PNC rule when many Guyanese migrated. Further, the fact that he is East Indian and was alive during these “hard times” gives him more authority as a speaker and as a result the listener, whether or not they experienced the “hard times” that is being alluded to, is inclined to accept Jagdeo’s statement as true.

The utterance functions in two ways. First, it appeals to the listener’s logic and sense of reason. It is reasonable to contend that people are only now discovering how wonderful Guyana is because before now times were hard. This sort of linguistic strategy is rational manipulation and seeks to influence the listener’s behaviour (in this case cause them to vote PPP) by affecting the rational sphere. (Asya n.pag.)

Second, the manipulation also takes an emotional form. Guyanese, particularly those of East Indian descent, are fearful of the era to which Jagdeo alludes. The fear stems either from their own experiences during the Burnham period or ideas of these events that would have been transmitted to them by parents or grandparents. As a result, the allusion to the era plays upon this existing fear and creates fear of its repetition.

Hence, by using his ethnicity and experience as points of power, Jagdeo is able transmit his party’s ideology of the Burnham era to the audience. The transmission of this ideology is capable of influencing the listener both rationally and emotionally. If the manipulation is realized then the listener accepts the ideology as truth and concedes their vote.” (Bharrat 2014)

It is sad that the politician so successfully makes a case of our dependence upon him when the opposite is true. The politician is dependent upon us for power. It is time we realized this, time we recognized the power of a single vote. It is because the politician understands the people’s power that he works so hard to manipulate our beliefs, our thinking.

By allowing ourselves to be so manipulated we live in fear and we allow our actions to be controlled. We allow our vote to be talked out of us without ever truly thinking critically and independently for ourselves. We give our power to the politician too cheaply, too easily. This is how we have been handicapped. We have allowed them to convince us that we have chosen them when in truth our right to choose has been deviously taken from us.

The truth is that the politician lives in fear. He lives in fear of the day we learn to think and to separate ourselves from the tribe. He lives in fear of the day we fight for country and not for tribe. He lives in fear of the day we begin to freely choose again and in so doing force him to earn our votes by performing in our best interests. He lives in fear of the day our children will write:

“My name is Bharrat. I am a Guyanese.”
© Sara Bharrat 2014

I am a Swing Vote

By Saieed I. Khalil

Mr. Khalil is a final year Economics student at the University of Guyana.

Our pattern of voting influences the nature of government and its policies. The power to freely and informedly choose the political and socioeconomic data by way of the ballot is what constitutes the lynchpin of a peaceful democracy.

Ideally, elections ought to reward governments for good policies and governance in line with what a nation desires. Conversely, politicians who disappoint are, through the polls, booted out of office. It is the prospect of losing office or being rewarded with more tenures which keep government in check and on the path of pursuing good governance and socioeconomic prosperity for their citizens.

However, in Guyana politics hardly works that way. For much of our post-colonial era, voting has transpired along the ethnic lines of the two dominant groups: Afro and Indo-Guyanese. There are many factors behind this pattern. Prime among them are Western interference and more importantly, a stunning lack of statesmanship by national leaders who failed to forge reconciliation between the rival of ethnic groups and a common agenda of nation building.

Due to this ethnic tension, the two main parties, the PPP and PNC, are perennially assured their political existence by virtue of their support among the Indo-Guyanese and Afro-Guyanese respectively. As a result of the existence of these vote banks, however, these political parties have not had to give much weight to the consequences of their party’s policies and decisions.

If these parties did give much weight to their decisions, the PPP-led government might have seen a few dismissals of those Ministers embroiled in corruption scandals. (Brazilian President Dilma Roussef’s government has seen some). Similarly, the PNC-dominated parliamentary coalition which voted against legislation that would enable hydropower development – legislation which was nevertheless passed by virtue of a smaller opposition faction, the AFC voting with the ruling party on the measure – would have been more open to compromise on this key development project.(in the US, the right wing Tea Party Republicans run the risk of political annihilation for similar obstructionism).

However, because of ethnic insecurity and mistrust, which have their genesis in traumatic historical antecedents that are yet to be adequately addressed, voters largely base their support on race and support their “home” parties blindly. However, the winds of change are quietly brewing.

Demographic changes such as an increase in the number of persons of mixed heritage, and an influx of immigrants from Brazil and China mean that the ethnic pull may not be as strong. More importantly, however, is the increase of the population’s portion of people under the age of 35. It is the rise of a cadre of young, dynamic voters that poses the most potent threat to political tribalism and offers the greatest hope for democratic renewal.

Young people do not bear the historical scars of brute inter-ethnic hostilities. The government’s politicos, in particular, have lamented the clean slate mindset of young people. Attempts to school youths as to “the way things were” have floundered as in this, the Information Age, young people through their Blackberries , iPods and iPhones and tablets and laptops have tapped into a world of ideas and they know, we know, that a better, more progressive way is possible.

Even parents, who may have more reason than their offspring to carry and propagate racial prejudices, no longer do so, because if they have traveled and lived abroad, if they too are as connected (or in this author’s case, more connected) to that world of ideas, they, as well, know what better systems of governance, that are conducive to multiculturalism and harmonious development, look like. It is becoming harder to feed young voters prejudice pills especially as they increasingly interface with each other online and come to the realization that divisiveness impairs development.

Guyanese can no longer wait for the political parties to lead the break from race based to issue based voting choices. For decades, the two political dinosaurs have done precious little to reach across the ethnic divide (token attempts at creating a facade of diversity hardly count) while simultaneously using rank race baiting to guard their own turfs. As outlined above, the status quo actually benefits their existence.

The change must, therefore, start with the voters. From the ground up. The parties will then either be compelled to modify their electoral strategy or die a political death (as was the case with the Republican party prior to the Ronald Reagan-led revival).

For instance, continuous losses of Indo Guyanese support, though it might not take away the Presidency and Executive which is guaranteed on the basis of mere attainment of plurality in the polls, could keep the PPP in a legislative minority that might eventually compel it to seek some constitutional arrangement for shared governance (as is the case with Parliamentary democracies in Trinidad, Britain and Germany).

Meanwhile, if the PNC sees a desertion of Afro Guyanese supporters, it would be compelled to reinvent itself as an ethnically inclusive, ideologically oriented unit instead of remaining as the Afro-centric party it is perceived as now. To speak the truth, it is the PNC’s inability (or unwillingness) to transform itself that has helped to reinforce the ethno-centric voting patterns and keep Indo-Guyanese firmly in the PPP camp. It is indeed a truism that it is a credible threat of electoral defeat by its rivals that keeps government in line.

It is the young, so far unprejudiced voters who look at issues rather than ethnicity that can lead this sea change in our politics. Young people must exercise courage and avoid being shackled by the bonds of racial mistrust and choose their representatives on performance, not pigmentation.

In political theory, such voters are called the independent voters, or swing voters. They hold the balance of power in the mature democracies and the political fortunes of governments rise or fade at their whim. These are the most insightful voters and the ones who governments fear the most.

Are there enough of us to shift the pendulum? Are you a swing vote?

Do not be silent so that fear may slowly stop your heart. Rise, speak! There is always hope.
Sara