IT is often said that elections are difficult to predict because it involves humans. Humans are not objects, they are not the best source for extracting data, they can easily skew that information. Pollsters, psephologists and the elections monitoring chattering classes would be the first to tell you it is a tough business. The methodology of asking people who they intend to vote for before an election is fraught with much uncertainty since people are generally shy and are squeamish when asked to respond to this question. There is, of course, exit polling where pollsters encounter voters just after they leave the polling booth and enquire for whom they placed their vote; this also comes with uncertainty since voters are not honest for a myriad of reasons. It has been accepted that we know surprisingly little about the relative accuracy of experts and polls (Kernell, 2000). Be that as it may, there are general trends and large analytical contexts that can point to the general outcome of elections. Hereunder provides a perspective on the next Guyana elections which, for me, rests on a key question: Is there a large swathe of unthinking Guyanese who cannot break from tribal voting even with the weakest candidate ever presented to them?
There was a time when my friends and I completely gave up on Guyanese politics; it became bland and uneventful. It was straightforward when there were elections, the results were a foregone conclusion, the PPP had the numbers and, in a polarized context, this party would always win. This changed in 2011 and 2015 and suddenly, there was hope; the tribal beast seemed weak. The current list of electors contains 500,000 eligible Guyanese voters. The population stands at 782,946â” Indo-Guyanese makes up 44%, Afro-Guyanese at 30%, the mixed population comprise 17% and the Indigenous people make up 9%. Candidates who seek to appeal to the base of their parties cannot win an election based on this data. If you carry your entire base, the other side has enough votes to work with to secure victory. Coalition politics and parties coming together on a national unity platform has to be the focus of smart political movement in Guyana.
It is an opportune time to consider whether Guyana is doomed to tribal voting. Even if the answer is ‘yes’, this has to be the biggest challenge the tribalists have ever faced in their history of voting on the side of the PPP. The candidate is weak, the process of selection was dubious; there are far more worthy candidates within the orbit who can mount a more formidable challenge and it is a clear case of a potential puppet Presidency in the making. This will certainly test the ethnological resolve of unthinking followers. This will be a struggle of conscience which I believe will result in a disinterested base; this does not bode well for the PPP.
Further, there is a large middle ground of voters who can break from the cycle of racial voting; and, insofar as they do exist, which political party would they gravitate towards? The centre does exist, they made their mark in the 2011 and 2015 elections, relegating the PPP to a minority government and subsequently, to the opposition in 2015. It is reasonable to assume they will support the political movement that leans towards national unity. It is my carefully considered view the strategy of the ‘30% base’ politics is dead. The days of ‘we have the ethnic numbers are gone. The metaphysical battle of PNC v PPP over decades has produced fatigue and voter apathy; those who recognize and accept this reality, are most likely to have success in Guyanese politics.
As noted above, predicting elections is a difficult task and there is no such thing as certainty in politics. The results of the referendum on leaving the European Union in Britain and the success of Donald Trump at the US elections in 2016 laid this axiom bare.
However, this does not preclude observers from making anecdotal calls. Based on the aforementioned, it is difficult to see the success of the PPP and its candidate at the next elections.