Five years ago, amidst much hoopla (and some claim, extraterritorial help aside from the infamous Dick Harris poll) the Alliance For Change (AFC) was launched into the Guyana political landscape. There were three principals, one from each of the three iconic political parties – the PPP, PNC and WPA. In the face of outraged protests when they refused to vacate the parliamentary seats they occupied as candidates of the said parties, they declared that they were harbinger of a new political culture.
Evidently, one aspect of this new praxis was a rejection of the premise that MPs selected from party lists are “creatures” of their sponsoring parties.
They forced the PPP and PNC to introduce rules for the expulsion of wayward MPs. Change, it appeared, was being engendered. But when they garnered a surprising five seats in the subsequent 2006 elections, they shot themselves in the foot with an unsavoury public spat surrounding the selection of one of their own MPs. The accusations, charges and counter charges that were hurled fast and furiously about broken promises, backroom deals, cronyism and racism did seem to suggest that it was a bit more difficult for the new political culture to be practiced than preached.
The charge of race influencing leadership decisions was particularly cutting. After all, the leadership triumvirate had assured all and sundry that their greatest claim towards earning their votes was the pains taken to fashion a leadership structure that would prevent just such an eventuality. The “change” they promised was centred on what they declared was the greatest albatross on the neck of Guyanese politics – race.
The announced innovation that would promote this non-racial politics was going to be a “rotation of leadership” of the party “between two of the principals at mid-point of each term.”
These two principals were Messrs Raphael Trotman (made the first party leader and presidential candidate) and Khemraj Ramjattan (made first party chairman). The party explained: “This will ensure shared vision and continuity with respect to the movement’s policies and activities and a comfort zone for those of the electorate concerned about ethnic unity.” It suggested that the gender implications of Ms Holder’s omission from the top spot (and let’s face it, the position of leader and presidential candidate is the top spot) was trumped by the ethnic bugbear.
There were doubts about the “rotation” principle from the beginning from several quarters: it had been tried before by the WPA to address the identical concern, without making much of an impact on the electorate.
The substantive objection was that the arrangement was too mechanical for what had to be a very complicated and nuanced issue that was not peculiarly Guyanese but was a worldwide phenomenon dubbed “the politics of identity”. The assumption was that the divided electorate (only “Africans” and “Indians” were considered) would see “one of their own” having an inevitable prospect of occupying the Executive top spot, in the event of the party winning the elections. While the ambiguities and contradictions of this assumption remained, the AFC could take comfort in that they were at least making an attempt to address the racial problematic.
And so we arrive at the present contretemps over the leadership issue. Responding to grumblings from within their leadership core and the party membership after no announcements were being made to fulfil the 2006 promise to “rotate” the leadership so that Khemraj Ramjattan would be the new leader of the party and its presidential candidate for the 2011 elections, a National Executive Committee (NEC) was convened last Saturday. Its subsequent announcement, however, raises more questions than answers – especially as it relates to the party’s stated commitment to a “new politics”.
While it was still “committed to leadership rotation”, the NEC announced that its party groups were officially mandated to nominate candidates for the presidential and prime ministerial positions, after which the NEC will make recommendations to its national conference scheduled for October.
Inevitably questions have been asked as to how this new methodology will lead to the old promised “rotation”. Will there be the outcome determinative “old politics” practice of “selection” rather than “election”?
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