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“WHY WOULD A GOVERNING PARTY get so involved in the internal elections of the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW)?”
That was the exasperated question of Akanni McDowall, the recently re-elected president of the NUPW, who was shocked by what appeared to be an orchestrated campaign by ruling Democratic Labour Party (DLP) operatives to block his team’s return to the helm of the union.
On the Sunday prior to the union’s election, an entire DLP branch meeting was devoted to demonising the NUPW leadership.
Similarly, a former president of the NUPW, and well known arch-rival to McDowall, Walter Maloney, was invited to deliver the DLP’s weekly Friday lunchtime lecture, during which he insisted that the NUPW should “work with the Government”.
These developments reflect the central feature of the modus operandi of the DLP which my retired colleague Dr George Belle summarises as “party paramountcy”.
For those too young to remember, the notion of party paramountcy is best associated with the People’s National Congress (PNC) of Guyana under the leadership of Forbes Burnham, in which all state and civic institutions – from the army, the credit unions, the university departments, the school boards to the Boy Scouts – were subordinate to the interests of, and existed as arms of, the ruling party.
Under party paramountcy, the ruling party treats every national question as one in which the party’s interest should be placed above everything else. Thus, far from seeing a trade union election as a minor, low-level political activity outside the scope of party politics, those guided by party paramountcy would invest themselves heavily in its outcome, satisfied only with seeing “their people” occupying the key positions. No area is deemed as outside the scope of party control.
This tendency towards “party paramountcy” is also seen in the unwillingness of the DLP to entertain any opinion which does not come from the “right person”. One sees therefore a party that listens only to itself, and views its legitimacy in the narrowest partisan terms. Branch activities become the only legitimate public forum.
It is there that key policies are announced and where Government popularity is measured. Thus, in the midst of public debates about the economy and other critical issues, the DLP mounts a FACTS campaign amongst its faithful to provide political comfort to itself.
Public policy is thus reduced to permanent electioneering. Once the minimum level of required support is assured, the rest of the country matters little, and democracy is stymied.
The downside to party paramountcy, however, is that it invites civil society resistance. Every small defeat at civil society level becomes a huge political blow for the party, as witnessed in the re-election of the McDowall faction in last week’s NUPW election. Each small defeat weakens the morale of the party in the lead-up to the real election.
•Tennyson Joseph is a political scientist at the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus, specialising in regional affairs. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org