11 years of challenges:

October 5, 2003 marks the beginning of the 11th year of the PPP/Civic alliance in office. October 5 from 1992 represents the triumph of democracy over dictatorship. It was appropriately termed – the dawn of a new era. Achievements scored in nearly every sector have been phenomenal. The balance between human development and economic growth has received plaudits from national and international agencies. Much will be said and written about the enormous all-round progress in Guyana during those eleven years. But for there to be a full appreciation of the significant advancements, a review of the challenges, some very daunting, and the obstacles placed in the path of development is necessary.
The question in many persons’ minds at 1992 was: Is the PNC going to allow the PPP/C to govern the country free from political instability? Having demitted office, after fraudulently staying in power through internationally confirmed rigged elections, was the PNCR going to play the role of a vigilant, yet responsible Opposition? Unfortunately, the answers to those questions were in the negative, judging by the PNCR statements, actions and positions in the years ahead.
Within three months of the election of the PPP/Civic, the late Leader of the PNC Desmond Hoyte vowed at a public meeting at the Square of the Revolution that the government “would not last for six months.” This he later revised to two years. But these statements were clear signals that the PNC would not allow the Government to do its job and portended the interruptions and even destructions of opposition confrontational politics of the coming years.
Shortly, thereafter a pernicious propaganda campaign to create ethnic tensions and fears commenced. The new-found freedom which the PPP/C had restored was employed in various ways by the PNC to undermine the State and to retard overall social and economic progress.
The first cry was “ethnic cleansing” and later “discrimination/marginalisation.” Whenever the Government moved to repair the corrupt and inefficient governmental systems, the PNC was swift to cry “ethnic cleansing.” These charges were without any factual basis and could never have been proven. The late President Cheddi Jagan went even further to enhance freedom. He signed up the United Nations Optional Protocol on Political and Civil Rights to allow Guyanese to present charges of ethnic cleansing and discrimination for investigation. No one, not even the PNCR ever used this mechanism. But the wild charges of discrimination continue until today.
The PNC claims to be concerned about the rights of Guyanese of African descent. However, it refused to participate in the 1993/1994 Race Relations Task Force and rejected Anglican Bishop Randolph George (an Afro-Guyanese) as the proposed Chairperson of a suggested Race Relations Committee. The PNC did not want any mechanism in place to expose its baseless claims in its bid to create political instability. In fact, Congress Place sought to keep itself relevant to the Afro-Guyanese population by its naked appeal to racism and perpetuation of the myth of Africans being discriminated and marginalized by the PPP/C government.
The PNC until today continues to play the race card. It fabricates and even fuel tensions in various communities. Statements by former and current leaders in the PNC confirm this dangerous position. Even the involvement of the PNC and other extremist elements in making Buxton a safe-haven for criminals in the height of the crime spree are recent examples of this explosive mixture of race and violence, and more recently crime.
Following its defeat at the 1997 elections, the PNC intensified its campaign of political instability. Again, this was articulated by Hoyte who declared that his party will make “Guyana ungovernable.” Later he referred to members of the security forces as his party’s “kith and kin” as they were mainly Afro-Guyanese and should not carry out their constitutional duties of maintaining law and order. He wanted the security forces to allow the PNC campaign of violence and political sabotage to go unchecked.
Recognising that the electorate had enough of its 28 years of misrule and oppression, the PNC seemed ready to force itself back into power at any cost, even at the cost of Guyana’s social and economic progress. The PNC organised 1997-2001 post-elections violence, showed how far that party was ready to go to create political havoc and undermine stability in the country with the aim of weakening the government and hoping for its eventual collapse.
The security forces conducting themselves in a professional manner made the PNC turn its political guns on them. A vicious campaign in the media (primarily the opposition talk show hosts and commentators on Channels 6, 9 and 28) and on the streets intensified to discredit and undermine public confidence in the Guyana Police Force. The PNC sought to make out the police as public enemy number one and singled out particular officers as objects of its demonisation campaign.
The attacks on the police, street marches, politically-inspired violence and political stalemate as a result of boycotting Parliament and aborting dialogue processes with the government, created a fertile environment for criminals of all shades. The crime wave that followed the February 23 2002 jail break was no coincidence and was not without political linkages. The PNC for months was ambivalent on the crime situation and was reluctant to support the law enforcement agencies in combating crime. Several political figures were known to be in contact with the criminal network. These episodes exposed the Opposition’s scheme: political and social instability will be encouraged even if it means cavorting with the criminals.
Another strain of the opposition’s non-cooperation stand and pressure on the political environment has been its consistent acts of bad faith. This type of behaviour poses severe challenges for any democracy and more so in Guyana’s case with advanced constitutional provisions for inclusion and participation.
Dating back to the 1997 elections, many aspects of the agreements brokered by CARICOM to resolve the political impasse were ignored or simply violated by the PNCR. Understandings reached at inter-party discussions and at the Parliamentary level were reneged on, frequently. The most celebrated case has been the use of voters’ identification card for the 1997 elections. The PNC agreed with other parties at the Inter-Party Committee for Electoral Reform that voters’ identification cards would be used for the 1997 elections. They even actively supported the various programmes by the Guyana Elections Commission and the donor community to support its implementation and usage by voters. Then following the elections and in response to its electoral defeat, the PNC challenged the outcome of the elections in Court on the basis that the usage of voters’ identification card was unconstitutional.
The PNC track record in holding its end of agreements and understandings has been disappointing. The hope is that there will now be some redemption giving the current constructive engagement process between the President and the Leader of the Opposition. The question many are asking: Is the PNCR like a leopard which cannot change its spots? Only the period ahead will tell.
The political challenges for the PPP/C are far from over. There is now teaming up by the fringe political groups - GAP-WPA and ROAR and extremists elements - to contribute to toughening the political environment in their quest to undermine the Government. Judging from how it has successfully overcome the challenges so far, especially during the past four years, those current and in the future would no doubt be addressed with much confidence and a sense of commitment to Guyana.

(The author is the Information Liaison the President and a leader of the PPP)