It is almost impossible for any political party which lost an election by over ten percentage points to within a few years, say five years, overcome that deficit, save and except for a massive populist swing in its direction.
The PNCR lost the 2006 general elections by not just 10% but by what now seems an unassailable 16% of the total votes cast. In the absence of any massive popular swing in its fortunes, it is near impossible for that party to emerge victorious in the forthcoming elections.
The PNCR faces two difficult hurdles. Firstly, it has done little since 2006 to convince its non-supporters that they should throw their support behind the party. And secondly, it goes into this election knowing that Guyana has enjoyed its most successful economic bubble yet with sustained economic growth occurring from 2006 to the present.
When you add to this the things that the government has done since 2006, it makes the PNCR’s goal of winning this year’s election look like a fading dream. The government has achieved some spectacular infrastructure developments in that period. It has built a fantastic stadium at Providence and bridged the Berbice River. It will soon achieve the long held dream of a major hydroelectric plant in Guyana, a cable that will allow every single household to have access to bandwidth at affordable prices and will also soon be distributing computers to every family in Guyana who cannot afford a computer.
In this context how does any party, anywhere in the world, convert a sixteen percentage point deficit in popular support at the polls into an electoral victory. It is highly unlikely that this can be realistically achieved without a massive popular swing coming its way.
This is the reality that the PNCR faces as it goes to the polls this year. But as with all parties, it must put its best foot forward and halt any further decline in its numbers, because there are smaller parties waiting to capitalise.
To create a mini populist wave, the PNCR has to do two things. First it needs to win significant crossover votes. The faction within the PNCR which had been pushing the candidacy of Winston Murray seems to have been aware of this necessity. They knew that there was, and remains, dissatisfaction within the ruling circles. They knew that there were votes to be courted within the ruling party’s support base and the PNCR needed a candidate that would be able to take advantage of this weakness in the PPP’s armory.
The PNCR also needs to regain that section of its middle class support which it lost to the AFC during the 2006 polls. The PPP also lost middle class support to the AFC, but has been working to recapture this section of its base.
If the PNCR is serious about winning crossover votes, and if it is equally serious about earning the respect of the middle class voters that it ceded to the AFC during the 2006 elections, it cannot be making statements about there being no evidence of the PNC ever rigging elections in Guyana.
We have long passed that stage of denial. It is almost universally accepted that the PNC systematically rigged elections from 1968 right through to 1985, and that there was a faction within the PNC that attempted to avert the 1992 polls.
The PNCR can find ways of avoiding being drawn into its electoral past. But to claim that there was no evidence of elections being rigged is simply not a smart strategy and is not going to win the party the crossover votes that it needs. What will also not win support is if the party decides to side with those who are creating a storm in a teacup over statements made by Peter Ramsaroop, that the PNC never won an election it its entire existence.
If the issue is that the statement should not have been made given commitments made within the talks being held to put together a joint opposition slate, then it may pass muster. But if this statement arouses difference on other grounds, then the PNCR is not going to convince persons that the party has put its past behind it and is prepared to move forward by not denying that it did engage in excesses against democracy.
The PNCR may have well accepted that it cannot win this election. And therefore its goal may be simply to ensure that it does not fall below the 35% support of the popular votes.
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