(Originally published in the Kaieteur News on 13 Dec 2005)
In my last column we gathered the entire nation for a fictional political debate with leaders from the PPP, the PNC, the AFC and the GTF. The participants have already taken their seats, some in dramatic fashion, and we are ready to begin the debate.
Please remember that this debate is an account of what I envision would happen if the current political parties were brought together in one room to deliberate the various political and social issues that currently impact the country. Let us get settled in quickly and start the debate.
Attention participants, I thought it would be good to establish an economic platform for each party so the people can understand the foundational premise from which the rest of your party’s policies will derive. We can start with the PPP. Mr. President, will you state your party’s economic platform, please?
Jagdeo, after glancing ever so slightly to the empty chair beside him, leans forward on the table and says, “We will continue to draw inspiration from the enduring values of respect for all as we strive to create a Guyana where all our citizens can live meaningful, valued lives. But we will ensure that these values are given life through policies that are relevant to the modern world. This means ensuring that our investments in Education, Health, Housing, Water and other social areas continue to increase and deliver better results that make a difference for everyone in our society, particularly the poor.”
He pauses to see if anyone is actually buying this speech. Seeing Corbin’s scowl, Jagdeo figures he must be doing something right and continues with his response. “But it also means working to create wealth, grow the economy and provide the opportunities for entrepreneurship and business to flourish.”
At this statement, Ramsaroop’s mouth drops wide open in disbelief. Seeing the flabbergasted faces in the balcony, Jagdeo attempts to save a little face. “Call this capitalism, call this socialism, call this what you will; I am not interested in labels. What I am interested in is doing what I can to allow each and every one of my people to lead the best life he or she can.”
This is where I ask the President for a bit more clarification, for the sake of “his people.” Jagdeo starts to open his mouth to answer when Persaud quickly interjects, “We are communists.” I thank Mr. Persaud for his swift response and turn to the next table. AFC, how do you respond?
“I am not a communist,” Ramjattan replies bluntly. I nod my head in understanding and ask again about his party’s economic platform. Ramjattan seems dazed, so I wait for his response. Getting tired of dead air, someone from the balcony shouts, “Hey, if they are not communists, maybe they are socialists.” I raise my eyebrows quizzically at the Gang of Three, who are still holding tight to the sides of their seats, even as they sat in them. Still no response, so I move on to the PNC table.
Mr. Corbin, what is your party’s economic platform? Corbin sits up straight in his chair, glares down his nose at Jagdeo and calmly spits, “We are not communists.” I reply that the people want to know what the PNC’s economic platform is – not what it is not. Corbin slowly turns his head to me and says, “Whatever the PPP is, the PNC is not.”
At this point, I thought it best to move on to the next table. GTF, what is your party’s economic platform? Just like before, thumping music fills the air and the spotlight zooms in on Ramsaroop, who is wearing his sunglasses…inside…at night. Again, he flings them off with dramatic flare and smiles as he says, “We are capitalists” - without even moving his mouth. This causes me to wonder if he has hired someone to talk for him as well?
Now I am a bit dazed too and need to jerk myself back to reality. I decide it would be best to sum up the first question and keep the debate rolling. I turn to the balcony filled with expectant faces. So there you have it folks, of the four parties here, one is communist (we think), one may be socialist (we think), one is definitely not communist and one is most certainly capitalist.
Moving right along, I address the participants with the next question. We are all well aware of the large-scale atrocities committed against women in Guyana. To this point in national history, no party has valued women and their issues enough to campaign for women’s rights. Will your party be including this as a social facet of your party’s platform? Why don’t we start with the AFC since you are the only party here with physical female representation?
All eyes fall on the “Gang of Three,” who are still tightly clutching their seats. However, it quickly becomes obvious that Trotman is sneering at Corbin, who is sneering at Jagdeo, who is again wistfully looking at the empty seat beside him. On the other side of Jagdeo, Persaud is sneering at Ramjattan, who is sneering at Ramsaroop, who is checking his hair in a mirror.
I am beginning to understand why there has not been a public political debate in Guyana for so long. Just as I am about to call the room to order, Jagdeo stands up at his table. Glancing once more to the vacant seat, he begins to speak. He says, “Women are a vital part of…” His voice starts to crack and he sits back down.
Joey Jagan then stands up and, glancing at the empty chair beside Jagdeo, he remembers a tender memory from childhood and says, “I believe what the President is try to say is that women are a vital part of any…” Jagan stops mid-sentence, sniffling once - he too sits back down.
Almost immediately, Ramjattan stands up with his gaze now firmly fixed on the vacant chair next to the President. He opens his mouth to speak, then suddenly realises his own seat is unprotected and quickly returns his vice-like grip to the metal bars of his seat.
At this point I am in a stupor of disbelief and look to the balcony to take my next cue from people. To my utter amazement, I find the entire balcony, a whole nation of people, staring at the empty seat next to Jagdeo. Some are staring with stern looks of reprimand and others are staring with a wishful longing.
It seems everyone in Guyana is holding on to something from the past, some of it good and some of it bad. It could be a tender childhood memory, the nostalgia of party affiliation, the resentment of wrongdoing – or seats.
I take a deep breath and sit back in my chair. I decide to paperclip all of my papers back together since I’m obviously not going to need them anymore tonight. It doesn’t seem like I’m going to get to ask about crime, corruption, economic growth, education, medical advancements or whether we should make it a law to force Ramjattan to shave his beard.
As I sigh heavy and open my bag to put the papers away, I spot my stash of El Dorado Special Reserve and decide now is as good a time as any to break it open. I pause slightly, thinking it might seem a bit disrespectful, what with the complete silence as the rest of the nation reveres the empty chair beside Jagdeo. But I figure she is probably doing the very same thing – wherever she is right now.
As I down the first of what I expect to be many shots from my bottle, I look around the room and up to the balcony teeming with Guyanese and ponder a quote by John F. Kennedy, “History is a relentless master. It has no present, only the past rushing into the future. To try to hold fast is to be swept aside.” Cheers, Mr. Kennedy.