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Strong Government, Not Strong Opposition

Commentary By David Hinds

CaribWorldNews, PHOENIX, Arizona, Fri. June 5, 2009: In making the case for an apology by the PNC, the speaker of Guyana`s National Assembly, Hon Ralph Ramkarran, repeats his view that Guyana needs a strong opposition. Mr. Ramkarran`s logic seems to be that unless and until the PNC apologizes it should or will not get into government or even be a strong opposition. There is a lot that can be said about such logic but I wish to comment on the notion of a `strong opposition.`

The language and thinking behind that formulation is grounded in the Westminster model which Guyana pretends to adhere to. I say pretend because Guyana has never really embraced the Westminster spirit of cooperation. Rather it has clung for dear life to a crude adversarial Westminster where the opposition is by definition weak and ineffectual. It has practically no impact on policy making, policy execution or law making – the three major functions of government. Whenever there has been effective opposition it has been when the opposition has acted outside of the formal structures – an approach that has more often than not led to confrontation and violence.

Since Mr. Ramkarran could not be talking about the latter, one wonders what he means by a strong opposition. But in any case, what Guyana needs more than a strong opposition is a strong government. While the present PPP government and the PNC before it have not hesitated to use the power of the state against political opponents, albeit in different ways, both have been weak governments when it comes to mobilizing the country around a national consensus. Such a consensus is the basis for any strong government, especially in ethnically divided societies.

Opposition under Westminster means government in waiting. In Guyana one opposition had to wait twenty eight years and the other has been waiting for the last seventeen years and in my humble opinion will wait forever unless there is an electoral miracle–read that to mean unless East Indians commit electoral suicide. My study of ethnically divided societies has not unearthed any precedence in this regard.

The PPP`s legitimacy is based on its electoral advantage. But because that advantage is ethnically grounded it is by nature a limited legitimacy. To broaden its legitimacy it has to get other ethnic groups to cooperate. But adversarial groups only cooperate if there is an incentive to do so. They have to get something of political value because that is what they are fighting over political resources which are then converted into economic and cultural value.

Despite the PPP`s public relations, it must know that wooing a handful of Africans here and there or a few African officials do not shift the ethnic balance of power. In ethnic societies politics and political behavior are not individually driven; they are group driven. So the PPP has to change its mindset and admit that in societies like ours government conceived in terms of government-strong opposition is a sure recipe for disaster.

EDITOR`S NOTE: Dr. David Hinds is a Guyanese-born, U.S.-based professor.