Political Power is a Resource


By The Piper

The PiperIf you are in politics and do not understand that power can and does take different forms, you will get hurt. If you do get power (control of the state apparatus) you will have to give it up some time, and if this simple fact is not appreciated, then the concept of power you are working with needs comprehensive revision. A strategy of exit is as important as that of taking office. Both could be mismanaged. Now might be a good time for both the governing APNU+AFC coalition and the PPP to reflect on these simple maxims. Deep reflection is urgent, because for too long, those with state power in Guyana have employed political office as an admixture of defense and domination. There are other options.

At this time it is useful for us to make both analytical and practical distinctions among ruling, leading, and governing. Grasping the differences among these three is especially important in the case of structurally divided societies, such as ours.

Ruling is when the party in power, that is the government, regularly uses coercion to get what it wants, or to prevent developments in the society that are inimical to the interest of those in power. Leading is evident when the administration in office uses state power in such a way that large sections of both the masses and economic elites see some benefits in participating, as against strategic self-exclusion. Governing is delivered when the institutional capacities of both the state and civil society are used to formulate and implement policies that have broad legitimacy. You might already have noticed the formula here is that active inclusiveness breeds legitimacy. Indeed.

To top it off, you may also have inferred that the greater the legitimacy, the less coercion is needed. Correct again. Balancing legitimacy and coercion is the basic architecture of good governance. The first part is about constructing the mechanisms for a participatory democracy; the second is about order and stability. The first without the second is idealism; the second with the first is state sponsored domination.

Now the situation on the ground should be examined. The PPP is adamant that the May 11 regional and national polls were compromised with irregularities, such as, but not limited to inconsistencies with the Statements of Poll. GECOM and the observer community have flatly rejected these claims. The PPP has now begun court action through an elections petition. Nothing is unusual here because defeated parties in young democracies regularly cough up these kinds of problems. In the meantime, a new administration has been sworn in and the machinery of state power has been fully transferred. There is a terrible beauty in all of this, that is, the transition took place in public, and with great fanfare. Not a shot fired.

The PPP needs to realize that its own leadership has already been recognized by others, simply because it followed the law in the transition. It must now consider that it can continue to provide this same leadership as the responsible opposition and just as importantly by thinking of new ways to meaningfully engage the Guyanese people. Leadership need not only be through state power! The PPP needs to rebuild its own legitimacy, one that is synch with the needs of the masses. It should begin a listening tour.

How about APNU+AFC? We have three new ministries that seem to fully reflect a politics of legitimacy. Where else in the world do you have a Ministry of Cohesion, Ministry of Communities, and a Ministry of Governance? This play of legitimacy, however, seems to be belied by a Ministry of State. By all indications, this last office is a centralization of political power in the Office of the President. APNU+AFC should be careful here because a frolicking dance of inclusive governance through rhetoric wouldn’t succeed in the long run. The more executive power is centralized, the more the government would have to rely on coercion, and when that happens, the participatory gold of the imagination would quickly turn into the lead of political reality. APNU should never forget that without the AFC, it would have probably been on Brickdam, pickets in hand. Power is a resource to be used, not squandered. Ruling is easy; governing is the challenge.


  1. Well said, beautiful analysis of power and its uses. The well intentioned purveyor of power can become loss in its application. Maintaining that balance between control and application is critical and it is here so many loose their way, particularly if gifted with longevity in office. Here is where an analysis of previous administrations is critical because of the lessons that can be garnered from their successes and failures. In the Guyana situation however our politicians tend to throw out the baby with the bath water thus denying themselves of critical information that can possibly prevent missteps.In their haste to distance themselves from a previous rival, a critical analysis of that rival’s MO is missed.Information that can become the basis for stepping over the pot holes of the political landscape of governance, control and rule.


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