The formation of the PPP-Civic alliance

Click here to close this window and return to the main menu

Previous Chapter     Next Chapter

The search for a consensus presidential candidate

After the rigged elections in December 1985, five of the six opposition parties which contested the elections - the People's Progressive Party (PPP), the Working People's Alliance (WPA), the Democratic Labour Movement (DLM), People's Democratic Movement (PDM) and National Democratic Front (NDF) - organised themselves into an alliance know as the Patriotic Coalition for Democracy (PCD). The PCD at first limited its activities to the struggle for free and fair elections and human rights. Later, the parties decided to transform the alliance into an electoral front, with a consensus presidential candidate, and a joint slate of candidates for the National Assembly. At the same time, the PPP proposed that the PCD should draft a political programme to present to the Guyanese people.

But it took almost two years before the parties could agree on the contents of the draft programme. The PPP, in a spirit of compromise, had agreed earlier to drop its insistence that the programme should have a socialist orientation. Unfortunately, by late 1989 agreement was not reached to publicise the programme, which the PPP preferred to be done before the general elections due in 1990, since it was necessary that all ethnic groups, classes and strata should see that their interests would be protected. However, the DLM did not agree since it felt that publication of the programme should be done only when there was an agreement on the consensus presidential candidate and the joint slate.

At the same time, there were differences on the choice of the consensus candidate - the DLM wanted a person outside of the five parties; the WPA at first wanted the person chosen by the parties, but later changed its position. On the other hand, the PPP was always in favour of a party person. Further, there was disagreement also on allocation for the different parties on the joint slate, and a deadlock resulted.

PPP meeting with "concerned citizens"

Around the same time, a number of business persons, professionals and trade unionists formed the Democratic Reform Movement with the aim of supporting the struggle for democratic elections. With the PCD talks at a stalemate, the group, also referring to themselves as a group of "concerned citizens", met with the leadership of the PPP for discussions on the way forward. However, the group's proposals were virtually the same as those of the DLM and WPA.

On the question of the consensus presidential candidate, the group suggested the person should come from outside the parties. The PPP disagreed and re-stated its position that the consensus candidate must be a party person, and proposed its leader Cheddi Jagan for this position.

The group's response was that Jagan, being an Indo-Guyanese, was unacceptable since Afro-Guyanese who wanted change, including the police and army, would not accept him. They also claimed that Jagan was anti-business and an avowed communist and the Americans would find it difficult to support him. With these stated pre-qualifications, the group insisted that the presidential candidate must be an Afro-Guyanese.

The PPP disagreed with these views, but as its fall back position, it proposed Dr. Roger Luncheon, an Afro-Guyanese executive member of the PPP who was present at the meeting, as the consensus presidential candidate. But in an amazing and revolting response, the group rejected this proposal, declaring that Luncheon was unsuitable because he was "Black but Red", meaning that although he was an Afro-Guyanese, he was a communist.

In other words, the Democratic Reform Movement did not want the presidential candidate to come from the PPP because of race (Cheddi Jagan was not acceptable because he was Indo-Guyanese) and ideology (Roger Luncheon was not acceptable because he was "communist"). The group also suggested that the PPP should have a minority share in any future legislature and Cabinet.

Not surprisingly, the PPP rejected these conditions totally. The party felt that in principle, the Indo-Guyanese, the largest ethnic group in Guyana would not accept the view that an Indo-Guyanese regardless of ability, suitability and reliability, should be excluded simply because of ethnicity.

As far as the joint slate was concerned, in all the formulas advanced by the Democratic Reform Movement, the WPA and the DLM, the PPP was to be in the minority. The party also noted that placing it in a minority position in the Cabinet and legislature was unrealistic and unacceptable. Its position was that in the interest of the nation and the people, it did not want to dominate or to be dominated in any future government.

Resumed discussions in the PCD

Soon after, the PCD resumed discussions on the questions of the presidential candidate and party allocation for the joint slate. Both the WPA and DLM argued for party equality. The WPA proposed that 50 percent of the joint list should be divided equally among the parties while the other 50 percent should be allocated to the civic bodies. But the PPP opposed this formula since it would have only twelve and a half percent of the joint slate. By this time, 1989, the PDM had pulled out from the grouping.

The DLM's proposal was that 80-90 percent of the joint list should be divided equally among the PPP, WPA, and DLM while the remaining 10-20 percent should be given to the NDF and other civic groups.

But the PPP disagreed with the concept of party equality on the ground that it was unrealistic, especially since the party had very large political support throughout the country. It referred to the organisational structures of the US Congress and the United Nations with a recognition of equality and inequality - each US state having equal (2) members in the Senate, but based on population, unequal members in the House of Representatives; the UN General Assembly having a representative from each member state, but the Security Council having only 15 members, with 5 being permanent members with a veto power. The PPP, therefore, argued that because of the size of its political support, it should have a larger proportion of nominees on the joint slate for election to the National Assembly.

PPP proposals

The PPP then proposed Cheddi Jagan as the presidential nominee, in the context of the party's submission for reduced powers for the president and a racially balanced government, which it would not dominate; 50 percent of the cabinet and 51 percent of PCD list (not 51 percent of parliament, and less than 24 seats the PPP secured at the 1964 elections).

But after the other members of the PCD rejected these proposals, the PPP made a new set of suggestions for a provisional presidential candidate and a provisional allocation in the joint slate in the proportion of 4-3-2-1 for the four PCD parties (PPP, WPA, DLM and NDF respectively) - an allocation which had been aired previously by one of the parties. The PPP's argument was that the PCD parties should contest together with a joint slate, headed by the presidential candidate for the National Assembly, but separately for the regional elections; and to use the latter results for the various parties to decide on the allocation for the National Assembly and for the President and two Vice-Presidents for a collective presidency. However, this idea was not acceptable to the other parties.

As a result, these discussions again ended in a stalemate without any agreement on either the consensus presidential candidate or the joint slate.

Emergence of GUARD

In the meantime, the Democratic Reform Movement, as it attracted more adherents from civic society, transformed itself to the Guyanese Action for Reform and Democracy (GUARD) in early 1990. Among its leading members were Samuel Hinds, an engineer from Linden, and Nanda Gopaul, a well-known trade unionist. Other members included Bishop Randolph George of the Anglican diocese, Andrew Morrison, a Jesuit priest and editor of the Catholic Standard, Mike McCormack, a human rights activist, Basil Butcher, a former test cricketer, Albert Rodrigues, a human rights activist, and Clairmont Lye, a businessman.

GUARD's aim was to encourage citizens to participate actively in the electoral process, independent of the political parties. It was purely a civic movement that stressed moral reform and it attracted many leading business persons, and religious leaders from the Christian, Hindu and Muslim faiths.

The organisation launched its first pubic rally in Georgetown in June 1990 and drew sizeable crowds to succeeding rallies where it urged people to demand free and fair elections. However, even though it initially stated that its intention was not to become a political movement, it quickly became politicised. In July 1990 it proposed the formation of an interim Government which was to last for two years during which time a new constitution would be drafted and adopted by a referendum to be followed by free and fair elections. GUARD said that since it was not a political movement, it would not participate in this interim Government, but it called on the populace to suggest names to serve on it.

As was expected, the ruling PNC Government was highly critical of this proposal. GUARD itself came under heavy attack from the ruling PNC which saw its association with the PCD in campaigning for free and fair elections as an "unholy alliance of politics and the clergy". One public meeting held by GUARD in Albouystown (in southern Georgetown) was violently broken up in September 1990 by PNC supporters and a number of persons, including a Roman Catholic nun, were beaten and seriously injured.

New proposals in PCD

In resumed discussions within the PCD on the issue of the presidential candidate, the DLM's suggested nominees were neither available nor acceptable. And of the three names put up by the WPA, only that of university professor Dr. Clive Thomas merited serious consideration. At that point, prominent executive members of the Guyana Manufactures Association and GUARD expressed at a joint meeting their preference Jagan over Thomas. But at the pleas of the PPP, they were prepared to accept Thomas as the Prime Minister/Vice Presidential candidate. And since a Jagan/Thomas combination was deemed too left, DLM's Paul Tennassee was added as Deputy Prime Ministerial candidate to give balance to the slate.

But on 13 October 1990, on the eve of a PCD meeting when it appeared that agreement would be reached on a Jagan/Thomas/Tennassee formula, GUARD at a public meeting threw a "spanner in the works" by announcing the name of Ashton Chase, a veteran trade unionist and lawyer, as its choice as presidential candidate.

Then on the day after this announcement, at the PCD meeting, the WPA, in an amazing shift, abandoned the position expected to be approved by the PCD and adopted the GUARD proposal. Thereupon, the PPP, on account of the fact that the WPA was substituting Chase for Thomas, proposed Chase instead of Thomas for the Prime Ministerial position. But, here again, the WPA raised opposition and no agreement was reached.

These developments threw the PCD in disarray with each party going its separate way due to differences on the consensus candidate formula, the joint slate formula and the joint PCD programme. The elections originally planned for December 1990 were postponed through widespread disagreement over the voters' list and this provided additional time to the PCD to resolve the differences among the parties. However, all efforts failed and by mid-1991, the alliance which had existed for the past six years was finally disbanded.

The PPP-Civic alliance

Meanwhile, to break the deadlock just a month before the then planned December 1990 elections, Samuel Hinds, who had been selected at a retreat as Chairman of GUARD, was approached at the PPP's request by some of his GUARD associates, and he agreed to accept the position as Prime Ministerial candidate. This resulted in a split within GUARD, and the larger section headed by Hinds, along with individual independents, allied with the PPP and called themselves the Civic group.

But the Jagan/Hinds ticket was not acceptable to the other faction of GUARD led by Gopaul and McCormack who continued to insist that the presidential candidate must come from outside the political parties.

The PPP had always preferred a PCD electoral front and a joint slate. But since its proposals were not acceptable to the other parties, it decided to enter the elections as PPP/Civic joint slate which it viewed as balanced along ethnic and class lines.

In an announcement in November 1990, the PPP stated that if the PPP/Civic slate should win the elections, the Party was still committed, with its winner-does-not-take-all policy, to form a post-election broad-based multi-party, multi-racial, multi-class and multi-ideology government, which was necessary for economic, ethnic, cultural and security considerations. This, it said, was also in keeping with stipulations of the PCD; namely, that, if the elections were free and fair, the parties could also contest separately but form a post-election alliance government.

The PPP/Civic alliance was eventually approved by the PPP's 24th congress held in August 1991 at the Empire Cinema in Georgetown. At this congress, the PPP also announced it was re-examining it ideological position in the light of changes occurring at that period in the socialist countries. In the report of the Central Committee, party leader Cheddi Jagan stated: "For parties like ours, inspired by the ideals of a socialist society, new assessments are now necessary.

. . . Our embrace of Marxism-Leninism lies in our commitment to build a society free from exploitation and governed by those who produce the wealth. But we feel it is necessary to make a very studious re-examination of the numerous specific propositions on which the general theory and practice of socialism has been based. It will be necessary to review even some of the deeply entrenched previously unquestioned tenets of scientific socialist theory."

Jagan added: "The Guyanese people cannot be swayed by ideological labels on our party. They trust our party for its commitment to the cause of the Guyanese people. They like the PPP for the humane ideals and principles to which it is committed."

Later, during discussions on the party's programme, Jagan declared that the building of socialism was not at that period on the agenda. He explained that the party was committed to the establishment of a national democratic state which would embrace political and ideological pluralism, political democracy, cultural diversity, racial equality and a mixed economy.

More support for PPP/Civic

The PPP/Civic alliance, which no doubt strengthened the hand of the PPP, bred its detractors, and efforts were made to undermine it from the time it was first announced. A faction within GUARD and the Catholic Standard, the weekly publication of the Catholic Church, possibly for doctrinal and other reasons, constantly attacked the PPP saying that it was no different from the PNC, thus proclaiming a "curse on both houses". Both this GUARD faction and the Catholic Standard also proposed the establishment of a "third force" to be formed by the remnants of GUARD itself to contest the election. The aim, no doubt, was to split the anti-dictatorial forces and to prevent the PPP/Civic slate from winning an outright majority.

To counter this, the PPP urged the Guyanese people not to repeat the mistakes made in 1964, when because of confusion created by racial, religious and anti-communist propaganda, and the creation of splinter parties, the Party, despite winning the highest proportion of votes, failed to secure the extra 5 percent of votes needed to continue in the government. The PPP warned that the same type of confusion was being created by opponents of the PPP/Civic alliance to prevent it from winning the Presidency and the majority in the National Assembly.

With the split in GUARD, the faction headed by Gopaul and McCormack in March 1992 announced it was promoting the compilation of a "Civic List" to contest elections now expected later in the year. Then on 23 May, Gopaul who headed the list, along with some other leading members of the organisation, resigned in order to contest the elections as a new party. This caused some other members who felt that GUARD should not participate in politics to abandon the organisation which eventually quietly dissolved.

Meanwhile the new party held its first delegates' meeting at the Pegasus Hotel in Georgetown on 19 August 1992, but even then there were strong divisions within its ranks. Subsequently, many of its supporters decided to throw in their support for the PPP/Civic, and some of them eventually were incorporated in the PPP/Civic lists for the national and regional elections in October 1992.

30 April 2007