Pragmatic Multi-racial Politics
ROAR of Ravi Dev
With the funeral rites about to be read over the AFC at the LGE, there are once again calls for a “multiracial” party. Now, what is a “multi-racial” party? Is it one in which the leaders are drawn from all or most of the various racial/ethnic blocs that constitute our polity? Is it one that has members drawn from all the various groups? Do the proportions have to roughly mirror the population or will any assorted agglomeration (like APNU/AFC) do? Or does it mean that the interests of all the groups must be expressly articulated and represented? Should those interests be subsumed under some notion of a “national” interest? Who defines that “national” interest? And so on.
In Guyana, all political parties in Guyana before ROAR, claimed they were “multiracial”. They took special pains to have individuals from the major race groups in their executive and courted votes from across the spectrum. They constructed “national” manifestos. Yet when it came to elections, the majority of the people invariably voted for one of the two major parties which were firmly identified with specific ethnic bloc – the PPP with Indians and the PNC with Africans. This even occurred with the carefully crafted “multiracial” AFC in 2011 and 2015. So, the question is posed again: “What is an “authentic” multiracial party?”
The question harks back to the roots of what constitutes “representation” in our “representative democracy”. The favoured approach, from both the old Liberal and Marxist ideologies was the “representation of ideas”. That is, once the interests of the group are articulated then anyone could “speak” for the group. By constructing “national” platforms in personnel and content, the PPP, the PNC and the AFC claimed to be capable of speaking for “all”. Yet, based on the results of elections, it is obvious in some way, the people were getting “ethnic” signals as to which party better represented their interests.
ROAR’s precursor, Jaguar Committee for Democracy’s insertion into Guyanese politics occurred in the immediate pre-1992 years and the free and fair elections of that year proved its thesis that “multiracial” voting remained the exception in Guyana. At that time, as articulated in our 1990 paper, “For a New Political Culture” we proposed representative, professionalised disciplined forces and temporary Shared Governance - segueing into federalism - to address the ethnic concerns over control of state power. If the status quo was retained, our theory predicted ethnic violence, which unfortunately came to pass in 1997 and the following decade.
So how do we arrive at “multiracial” politics that can represent all the groups to their satisfaction? We thought it was self-evident that the parties that the various ethnic groups selected via their votes should come together and work on a program that combined their several platforms. We still believe that this is the way to begin and then work towards a federal approach, which would need the trust engendered during a period of working together.
But a final piece of semantic confusion still remains, in addition to the need for political will. There still remains a dis-taste by the political parties to acknowledge they are “ethnically” based. The greatest irony is that this acknowledgement, coupled with the acceptance to work together, would result in “multiracial” governance, which, after all is what they claim to be the goal of their politics. The “multiracial” party was supposed to only be a way-station to the “multiracial” government, wasn’t it?
A multiracial/multi-ethnic party must explicitly articulate the interests of the several constituent groups it purports to represent. This can be done, as in the Democratic Party in the US, by having specific “caucuses” for African and Hispanic voters. There is no shame in this or apologies to be made. It is now conceded that in addition to the old “representation of ideas” there is the need for “representation by presence” especially for those who have been excluded or have experienced unique defining experiences. Can’t we at least go this far in Guyana? We have quotas for women representatives.
“Representation by presence” by its operation, has its own liberating potential. There are some who sincerely want to belong to “non-racial” parties, but I do not think we can create ever this unicorn in Guyana. Where has it been created? We have to work with the material we have: politics has to be pragmatic, in the philosophical sense of the word.