Passing the baton
Today, the People’s National Congress Reform (PNCR) will be electing a new leader at its 17th Biennial Congress. In the lead-up to the Congress there has been a vigorous campaign waged in the press and social media between the supporters of the two major candidates for the office. While some have bemoaned the sharpness of some of the interventions, it is our considered view that the exchanges reflect the crossroad at which the party has found itself at this time.
The PNC is a national institution that has been around for over fifty years. During that time, it has been a major agent of change in our country – but inevitably, has also been affected by those changes. This is healthy: an institution, like an individual, that does not adapt to its environment soon becomes a fossil.
Right now the debate by the members of the PNCR, while couched in the rhetoric of support of one or the other candidate, is actually a debate about the principles that should now guide the party.
At its formation – out of a fission in the Peoples Progressive Party (PPP) – the PNC reflected both the angst and concerns of the ‘founder-leader’ LFS Burnham and that of the people he sought to lead. Perhaps inevitably, it defined itself in opposition to the PPP. A recent interlocutor reminded us of an early (1962) departure from the PNC – that of the then Mr. Sydney King. That exit was occasioned by fears that are still the driving force in our politics: ethnic insecurities.
The writer also alluded to the PNC’s ‘battle song’; specifically to the lines that exhorted members to “hold the line of battle comrades link your arms in unity, organize and charge the forces of the haughty enemy…” In a sense, exactly fifty years after King’s departure (he soon changed his name to Eusi Kwayana) the PNC is now debating whether the sentiments implicit in those words of the party song should still guide the party’s actions.
It is not coincidental that the PNC ‘battle song’ was also written by Sydney King/Eusi Kwayana. He also wrote the party songs for the PPP (while he was a member of that party) and of the Working People’s Alliance (WPA). The lyrics of the three songs not only reflected the philosophy of Mr. Kwayana at the time, but obviously since they found acceptance by the parties in question, also found resonance in the views of the wider memberships in changing times and circumstances.
One can compare the words of the PNC song quoted above to that from the earlier PPP’s at a time of national unity: ‘Give us the sign Oh fighting men!/Now is our call for bravery/We’ll break the bonds of slavery./The mighty land Guyana we/Shall make a land of liberty.’
And that of the WPA, at a later time of disillusion with the PNC’s experiment: ‘Let’s join our hands and say,/Together come what may/Together Portuguese, Chinese and Indian/Together African And Amerindian/Take the fight for freedom into everyplace./Struggle for the freedom/Of the human race.’
It is rather unfortunate that there are elements within the PNC who still view other competitors for office in our political space as ‘enemies’, against whom ‘war’ must be waged. At the opening of the Congress, the departing leader – the first one of the PNC to do so voluntarily – Mr. Robert Corbin warned the general membership as well as his successor, to beware of ‘wild men’ who would plunge the party and the nation into internecine warfare.
We cannot afford to define our political opponents as ‘enemies’ at this juncture of our history; whatever might have been the exigencies in the past. It is to the credit of Mr. Corbin, who needs no lectures in the old-time rough and tumble politics, to have resisted the pressures for such an orientation in the last few years. His moderation acknowledged the changing demographics, as well as domestic and international political dynamics and as importantly, has borne fruit.
May peace, moderation and justice be the watchwords today at the PNC Congress.