WITH THE abrupt collapse of the David Granger-led coalition government on Friday, every aspect of Guyana society—which was already at a crossroads—is now in flux.
The discovery of oil with the potential to generate US$20 billion in revenue annually years ago positioned the country to transition from one of the poorest in South America to one of the richest. But the oil-find also reignited a centuries-old conflict with Venezuela over who owns the pristine Essequibo region that makes up two-thirds of Guyana’s territory. In March, Granger’s administration had looked to settle the matter once and for all with the filing of legal papers with the International Court of Justice.
Hours after it was clear the government had lost its slender majority, Venezuela’s navy intercepted a ship looking for oil on behalf of Exxon Mobil Corp in Guyanese waters.
At a time when there is so much turmoil in South America, the elections that are now due in three months’ time must bring about an outcome that will ensure Guyana is restored to stability. Whoever is victorious needs a strong enough mandate to either govern outright or to form a coalition government that is not as vulnerable as Granger’s proved to be. With the difficulties of coalition governance ultimately being his undoing, question marks also remain over Granger’s future role, if any, going forward given his health.
The toppling of the Guyana government also threatens to profoundly alter the regional security landscape at a time when Venezuela’s decline has exposed vulnerabilities. Many will be looking for assurances from campaigning parties as to whether Guyana will maintain commitments entered into by Granger. These include the handling of the border dispute as well as initiatives such as the Memorandum of Understanding signed between Guyana and TT.
This country has experience of the various modes of governance including coalitions and governments with outright majorities. The Guyana experience is a reminder of how both modes can easily see governments abruptly upended. With a recent NACTA poll placing the PNM and UNC in a close race in favour of the incumbent, the political parties in our democracy should take note and remember the adage when your neighbour’s house is on fire wet your own.
However, the greatest anxiety will no doubt be about whether the coming political processes will be peaceful given Guyana’s history. In explaining why he voted against the government in a no-confidence motion, back-bencher Charrandas Persaud set an ominous tone.
“If I die now because people may not be happy with what I have done I will die a happy person. I will have a clear conscience,” Persaud said. In the coming months, Guyana must move beyond that tone and enforce its burgeoning tradition of peaceful electoral campaigns and elections.