TWO PARTIES, TWO CONFERENCES, ONE DIRECTION
All eyes are going to be on the congresses of the two main opposition parties, the Alliance for Change (AFC) and the People’s National Congress Reform (PNCR) to be held later this month.
For the AFC, their annual conference will represent the passing of the baton of leadership from Raphael Trotman to Khemraj Ramjattan. This is expected to be a mere formality.
Of more interest will be the extent to which that party can elect to its executive a team that balances the influence of the former PPP leaders and those persons from the defunct ROAR who went over to the AFC and who were highly instrumental in securing the party’s successes in last year’s elections.
Whatever decisions are made, it is likely that the middle class will retain domination of the leadership of the AFC, and in so doing, determine just how the party is going to reassert its independence, given that it is now a virtual sidekick of APNU.
When the AFC won its 10% of the votes in the 2011 polls, it projected itself as the party that would be holding the balance of power in the parliament. It now seems that it is more interested in settling old scores with the PPP, and in frustrating legislative progress, rather being an arbiter of good governance.
Another important issue to be settled concerns potential conflicts of interest involving the leaders of the AFC. As a parliamentary party, the AFC has to determine how to avoid the personal and business interests of its leaders conflicting with its duty towards representing its constituents.
As part of its responsibilities towards its constituents, the AFC is expected within the National Assembly to make decisions concerning major projects being undertaken by the government. Amongst those projects are the construction of a hotel on the Kingston mud flats and the construction of a hydroelectric power station at Amaila Falls.
However, in both of these instances there is the potential for conflicts of interest. Firstly, in relation to the hotel project, one of the leaders of the AFC is representing in the courts, a firm which has a legal dispute with the owners of the land on which the new hotel is being built. So how is this person going to avoid allegations of a potential conflict between his professional interests and that of his party’s constituents when it comes to debating this project in the National Assembly?
In the second instance, one of the leaders of the AFC was known in the past to have provided public relations services to the company that is putting together the financing of the hydroelectric plant.
The question, therefore, that the annual conference of the AFC should consider is, what mechanisms can be put in place to avoid these professional interests of the AFC leaders not conflicting with the interests of the party within the parliament. Or in other words, how can the AFC avoid the professional interests of its leaders influencing how it votes within the National Assembly.
Over at Congress Place, the PNCR, the substantive force within APNU, will be holding its Congress. The highpoint of this event is expected to be the election of a new leader for the party.
The party is in transition. It is moving towards new leadership and preparing for a future in which, given the implications of the results of the 2011 elections, it may never be able to win an election on its own. As such, the PNCR seems destined to a future of alliance politics.
This, of course, is in direct confrontation with the sentiments expressed in 1968 by the Founder Leader of the PNC, Forbes Burnham, when he declared that he would never again lead the PNC into a coalition with another party.
This Burnhamite philosophy, that the PNC should stand alone, goes against any chances that the PNCR can have of ever again taking power and therefore means that the PNCR will have to sustain coalition politics well into the distant future.
This places a whole new dimension on the party’s congress this month, and may force the party to consider a leadership, as distinct from a leader, which can allow for coalition and alliance-building. At the helm of the party, should be someone who can direct such a process. It will be for the delegates of the PNCR to decide, however, whether those who have failed to promote consensus politics within the parliament can do so within the party’s leadership.