Two waves of chants were always expected to dominate the campaign of the ruling People’s Progressive Party (PPP) as it attempts a fifth consecutive term in office.
The cries of “Lula! Lula! Lula! Lula!” were expected to dominate the party’s rallies as the supporters of the party welcomed its latest presidential candidate who is a look-alike to the former Brazilian leader and who is expected to pursue pro-working class policies similar to Lula, as the party of which he is General Secretary retakes the handle of government should it win the elections.
But the PPP’s election campaign is also expected to be one grand farewell party for President Bharrat Jagdeo who has been Guyana’s longest serving and most successful president ever. . So the second cries at the party’s rallies were expected to be “Bharrat! Bharrat! Bharrat! Bharrat!”
The outgoing president was always going to overshadow the PPP’s presidential candidate. He is of course the sitting president and has been at the helm of government for twelve long years. His elections results and personal popularity in opinion polls make him the most appealing of the presidents that Guyana has ever had, even if his presidency was characterized by a particular and controversial style of management, numerous political mistakes and cheap shots unbecoming of the holder of such a high office. He remains a most highly popular president across all of Guyana and therefore would overshadow the PPP’s presidential candidate on the campaign trail.
As such, his presence on the political platform alongside the PPP’s presidential candidate would have diverted attention from the party’s presidential candidate, which is something that the party would have been concerned about and would have needed to address.
However, it now seems as if some attempt is being made to deal with this dilemma. An appreciation ceremony paying tribute to the outgoing president is slated for next weekend at the National Stadium. It is yet unclear whether this is a party or state event, or whether it is being organized by some of the president’s friends. But whoever is behind the organization will always be guaranteed a massive audience.
A formal state ceremony honouring Bharrat Jagdeo will eventually have to be held, at which the diplomatic corps and other state dignitaries will have to be invited. That ceremony will also be expected to be a grand event with traditional march pasts and parades.
The party will also be expected to say farewell to the President as will the friends of the President.
Guyana has never before had a situation whereby a sitting president could not contest for re-election. This is the first time that this rule is being put into effect and therefore the nation will be saying goodbye to one leader as it makes provision for the election of another.
The appreciation ceremony that is being planned for next weekend will help the presidential candidate of the ruling party, because it will mean that by the time the election campaign gets going, the nation would have already said goodbye to its longest serving Executive President.
But even so, it is not likely, given his vast experience in government, that President Jagdeo can be confined or harnessed during the presidential campaign. He is expected to be a major force in the party’s campaign – even though one must question, given his penchant for making controversial outbursts, whether this is the ideal thing for the party.
By having a farewell and appreciation ceremony for President Jagdeo even before the ruling party has launched its election campaign may be one way of indicating that the attention must now be swung towards the party’s presidential candidate.
Already, there are signs of some attempt by the PPP’s candidate to carve out an image of someone that is not always exclusively tied to the government line. This past week, there has been comment by the party’s General Secretary’s disagreeing with the government’s official position as regards a management contract for the Skeldon Sugar Estate, and certainly also his position on another issue is not going to find favour with the government.
What we are therefore seeing now is the slow emergence, the warm-up so to speak, of the candidacy of the man many liken to former Brazilian President Lula.
But in as much as the cries of “Lula! Lula! Lula! Lula!” are expected to be loudly heard on the campaign trail, it will take some effort to drown out the other chants of “Bharrat! Bharrat! Bharrat! Bharrat!” as the party’s superstar takes a bow off the political stage and retreats into retirement.
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