Tribalism in Guyana Politics and How Indo-Guyanese Remain Politically Divided

Dr. Jagan was forced to accept constitutional changes on the basis of which elections were held in December 1964

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Colonial power
Indentured Labour. Wikimedia
  • In December 1964 the PPP won 45.8 per cent of the total vote, the PNC 40 per cent and the United Force 12.4 per cent
  • Dr. Jagan was removed as Premier on December 14, 1964
  • The United Force’s 12.4 per cent vote came substantially from Indo-Guyanese further disputing the claim by Freddie Kissoon of their undiluted tribalism.

– by Trevor Sudama

Guyana, August 25, 2017: The sustained collaborative foreign and local bombardment of the PPP Government succeeded and Dr. Jagan was forced to accept constitutional changes on the basis of which elections were held in early December 1964 resulting in the PPP winning 45.8 per cent of the total vote, the PNC 40 per cent and the United Force 12.4 per cent.

By Order in Council of the British Government, Dr. Jagan was removed as Premier on December 14, 1964, and shortly thereafter a coalition Government of the Afro-Guyanese dominated PNC and the United Force was installed in office. The United Force’s 12.4 per cent vote came substantially from Indo-Guyanese further disputing the claim by Freddie Kissoon of their undiluted tribalism.

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Given the British Government’s haste to shed its colonies, the country was being propelled to independence and ethnic conflict would continue unabated in anticipation of this event. The colonial power would play a critical but not neutral role in the outcome.

Ann Marie Bissessar and John Gaffar La Guerre in their book mentioned in the previous column would note that:-“Both in Trinidad and in Guyana, the run-up to independence was characterized by increasing rivalry between the ethnic groupings and a dominant role for the colonial power was in settling these conflicts. What it meant, however, was that one ethnic group became the loser and the other the victor.” (p 91). It was clearly apparent that in 1964 the Indo-Guyanese ended up the loser and the Afro- Guyanese the winner resulting in the consolidation of Afro-Guyanese racial sentiment and solidarity. Guyana was granted independence from Britain in May 1966.

The Burnham regime through the PNC dominated the socio-economic and political life of Guyana for almost three decades from 1964-1992 initially under Forbes Burnham and later under Desmond Hoyte. The Burnham regime was generally regarded as a dictatorship- brutal, oppressive, manipulative and electorally fraudulent. It openly utilized the coercive power of the State to suppress dissent and hound its opponents and employed State resources for naked patronage in defiance of rights, laws, rules, and conventions. It seems apparent that the sustainable support for the regime came primarily from the ethnic consciousness of its Afro-Guyanese base.

Yet, significant numbers of Indo- Guyanese lent their support to the Burnham regime. It is immaterial that they did so to protect religious or business interests or from threats and intimidation. The fact is that Indo-Guyanese sentiment and solidarity was fractured and did not reflect absolute tribal support for the Indo-Guyanese dominated PPP. It is therefore difficult to place credibility on Freddie Kissoon’s jaundiced conclusion that “….they (Indo-Guyanese) are racial from top to bottom.” On the present day situation, Raffique Shah quotes Freddie Kissoon’s lament that “In Guyana… if he met ten Indians and asked their views on the incumbent Afro-dominated APNU Government, they would be unanimously against it remaining in power. But if he spoke with ten Afro-Guyanese, five would be for and five against.” It is difficult to envisage that ethnic based support for the political parties would have changed substantially from what they were in the National Elections of 2015.

Given the ethnic demographics of the country, the Afro-Guyanese led a coalition of parties could not have obtained their one- seat majority in the National Assembly nor could David Grainger have become President without the support of a sizeable percentage of Indo-Guyanese.

Pollster Vishnu Bisram, in his assessment of ethnic cross voting in the 2015 Elections, estimates that at least 12 per cent of Indo-Guyanese voted for the Afro-Guyanese dominated coalition and its leader. He also stated that in his interviews during that campaign, some Indo-Guyanese expressed support for the Afro-dominated coalition of parties but he found no Afro-Guyanese in support of the Indo-Guyanese dominated PPP/Civic.

I, therefore, wonder how Freddie Kissoon chose his random sample of Guyanese to elicit their views.

Trevor Sudama is a former Member of Parliament & past Director of the Central Bank of Trinidad and Tobago