After a five-month political stalemate, Guyana inaugurated its ninth President, Dr. Irfaan Ali of the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C), who must now work towards healing the country’s deep, historic political divisions. While the Ali administration, less than a month in office, has to contend with many issues including the state of the economy, governing future oil wealth, and rising COVID-19 cases, it must also prioritize an active push toward national reconciliation.
Tensions in and outside of the country grew during the five months it took for Guyana to reach a democratic electoral conclusion. Accusations were hurled between both the PPP/C and the A Partnership for National Unity + Alliance for Change (APNU+AFC) coalition, while Guyana’s diaspora traded insults over social media. Although Guyana did not descend into ethnic conflict and violence, as many Guyanese along with Western experts and media sources feared, the five-month electoral process amplified the historic divides between the PPP/C and the People’s National Congress (PNC), the dominant partner in the APNU+AFC coalition.
Even before Guyana’s independence in 1966, its two main political parties, the PPP and the PNC, have been on opposing sides, routinely accusing each other of either electoral fraud or mismanagement of national funds. This, among other accusations, fueled suspicions and distrust between them and their supporters, which widened during the March 2 elections.
This did not stop the rhetoric of national unity that each party promised in regard to healing political divisions. However, this rhetoric is routine during election campaigns but quickly forgotten in the aftermath. As in the past, each party’s commitment to national reconciliation was prominently advertised in their campaigns but, after the latest political crisis, it seems that the international community and local stakeholders will aim to hold the new PPP/C government to its word.
Guyana’s political crisis put the country in the international spotlight, and all local and international stakeholders that participated in Guyana’s recent elections witnessed the effects of the country’s political divisions. As a result, when these stakeholders congratulated President Ali on his inauguration, they simultaneously stressed the need for reconciliation among Guyana’s political parties and its people.
These statements did not come solely from Western countries. Guyana’s smaller political parties and invested groups like the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), the Commonwealth of Nations, the Organization of American States, and the Carter Center also called for national reconciliation. In similar ways, these stakeholders argued that if political divisions in Guyana are not addressed quickly, the country could experience a repeat of the 2020 election fiasco, putting the future of Guyanese citizens at risk.
However, beyond international support, the Guyanese people themselves and all political parties must be proactive in addressing this situation over the country’s political divisions. This means that both the PPP/C and the APNU+AFC coalition need to not only extend offerings to work with each other, but they must also incorporate the smaller parties and civil society actors to take part in the process of fostering a national dialogue.
This will be instrumental in producing policies that are beneficial for all Guyanese because although the PPP/C secured 33 parliamentary seats and 229,481 votes, the APNU+AFC coalition was not far behind as it received 31 seats and 236,928 votes, with the remaining seat shared between a coalition of three smaller political parties. Therefore, the PPP/C cannot assume that their policies will proportionately serve all of Guyana if all of Guyana is not involved. To keep Guyana’s democracy healthy, they need to welcome the APNU+AFC, smaller parties, and civil society in a way that shows that these partners have an active role in shaping the country’s future. If not, Guyana’s next elections will become another bitter battle focused more on securing power rather than the betterment of the country.
With the advantage of incumbency, it is on the PPP/C to take the moral high ground and display leadership and magnanimity in the pursuit of national reconciliation and healing. One step in this direction should involve initiating an overhaul of the country’s politicized and outdated electoral system and setting national consultations toward a constitutional reform. In addition, an inclusive approach to appointments to state boards and merit-based public service would go a long way toward overcoming tribal instincts, mutual suspicion, and building trust.
However, the PPP/C must be aware that even before constitutional and electoral reform can occur, constructive and public discussions must take place between the country’s stakeholders. National reconciliation cannot only happen within government and behind closed doors. For Guyana’s democracy to prosper, it must be truly democratic—meaning it has to be participatory for all stakeholders in the country.
At the same time, the opposition parties, especially the APNU+AFC coalition, cannot continue to challenge the PPP/C’s electoral victory or remain passive and only object to the new government’s policies. Although it is the opposition’s constitutional right to submit an election petition challenging the outcome, former President David Granger needs to weigh the cost.
The international community and local stakeholders’ views on which party won the most valid votes has not changed. Therefore, the election petition has a high chance of being unsuccessful, at which point it would only delay a potential national dialogue with PPP/C officials. Filing the petition would also give the coalition’s supporters false hope, keeping them from embracing any PPP/C efforts to create constructive conversations.
Instead, it would be in Guyana’s best interest for Granger to put the election petition aside and rebuild the reputation of the APNU+AFC coalition. This could go a long way toward showing the new government that the coalition is ready to reconcile.
Thus, the international community and civil society groups in Guyana must hold both the PPP/C and the APNU+AFC coalition accountable if national reconciliation mechanisms are initiated. Anything less would see the Guyanese people lose out on what could be a prosperous future.
Wazim Mowla is a Guyanese American graduate student at American University, a researcher for the African & African Diaspora Studies program at Florida International University, and an intern for the Permanent Mission of Antigua & Barbuda to the United States and the OAS.