The beginning of the end of the concept of the maximum leader
The ongoing political competition taking place within the People’s National Congress Reform (PNCR) is good for the party and for the country. It is also not unique to the PNCR since similar events are taking place within the PPP, thus marking the end of the rule of the principle of the Maximum Leader with both of the two main political parties.
Forbes Burnham and Desmond Hoyte could both be considered as maximum leaders. The challenges that both received were of mere academic importance since none of the contenders were capable of unseating either. Burnham ruled supreme over the party he founded and did so until his death.
Hoyte did the same, but went a step further by cementing the claim as the most popular leader of the party, by virtue of his performance in the elections of 1992 and 1997 which saw him gather support in excess of forty per cent in both elections in which there was a huge voter turnout. Burnham could never have gathered such support in free and fair elections.
Hoyte was succeeded by Robert Corbin and he too has held off challenges to his leadership. Last year’s challenge by Team Alexander can be said to have been the main one faced so far. This time, there are other challenges and it shows that the party is not a monolith but has various competing factions within it.
This is not an unhealthy state of affairs. The party and even outsiders must not treat competition for leadership, especially when these involve factions of the party, as constituting internal rifts. These are healthy developments for any party committed to internal democracy as it is known and practiced in western democracies.
The same factional competition is taking place within the PPP. There is the same internal competition for ascendency within the PPP as there is within the PNCR. Thus, to look at the present rivalry taking place within the PNCR as a bad thing for unity is myopic.
Unity does not imply that everyone should see every issue through the same lens. Unity implies a common purpose and common ideals. It is healthy for both of the main political parties that there is competition, because this is the surest way for both of these parties to be democratized from within.
Arising out of this process is something that the Guyanese people will have to attune their minds to.
Arising out of this process will be the demise of the maximum leader. No longer should we expect within the political structure of the main political parties to see the domination of any single leader for an extended period.
The changes that have been brought about within the traditional culture of both political parties will result in the constant competition for positions within these parties. The start so far has been inauspicious with there still being the hangover from the past. While the old tendencies are still dominant, these are giving way as more and more persons are coming together to challenge the traditional wisdom of the infallible leader. It is happening within the PNCR and it is happening at slower pace within the PPP.
The PNCR must therefore view its Congress that commences today as an opportunity to mature with the times and to demonstrate that it is prepared to leave behind the baggage of the past, the most dominant of which is the concept of the maximum leader.
Even if, as expected, Robert Corbin is reflected as leader of the party, the PNCR must commit towards a political culture that encourages unity of factions rather than unity without factions.
This is the new order that all former left wing parties which have chosen to abandon the left must pursue. If they have converted to the right, they should remain to the right and adopt the essence of democracy that obtains within parties that are committed to this type of orientation.
There is not likely to be any talk about which ideological orientation the PNCR is now committed to.
There is no need. The twenty years have seen the wholesale abandoning of parties of their left wing leaning. History has not ended but the neo-liberal model has prevailed.
The losers, those with enough integrity not to abandon what they stand for, must stay on the sidelines of history and observe the transformation of the former vanguard parties into new outposts, this time for the propertied class who are no doubt pulling strings from behind the curtains of factions that are competing for power.