Not surprisingly, the contest for the chairmanship of the PNC has been dominating the news cycle and the larger political conversation. After all, the PNC is one of the country’s major political parties and electoral machines.
The PNC is the overpowering partner in the country’s coalition government. So what happens in that party has consequences for the country and its politics. The race for the chairmanship is being correctly or incorrectly seen as a contest between those who wish to succeed the present leader of the party in that position and, by extension, leader of APNU and the coalition’s presidential candidate.
As is the case with these intra-party races, they expose real and imagined factions and tendencies within the party. Like most national institutions, a political party is really an alliance of factions and interests. The party appears cohesive when power beckons or is actualized, but that cohesiveness fractures in the face of competition for top office or sometimes over ideological and policy direction.
The PNC was created as a coalition of forces 61 years ago, comprising the then mostly urban Burnhamites, the supporters of the Afro-Saxon John Carter and the mostly rural followers of Sydney King. By the turn of the 1970s, John Carter was maneuvered into diplomatic exile and his followers neutralized while Sydney King, by then Eusi Kwayana, finally broke with the PNC over political direction and policy as well as political morality. This gave Mr. Burnham a free rein to construct a cohesive party around his charisma and personality. Burnhamism masked whatever fractures remained in the party.
But once Burnham died prematurely in 1985, the fractures reopened. The Burnhamist wing was quickly in open confrontation with the “reformist” wing represented by Desmond Hoyte who had become party leader and president. It was a contest to determine what a post-Burnham PNC should look like. This led to an open split of the party, with party founder-member, Hamilton Greene, leaving to form his own party, GGG.
This faction, which included current chairman, Basil Williams, would return to the party towards the end of Hoyte’s tenure. But by the time they returned, Hoyte had moved the party so far away from Burnhamism that there was no major space for them in the leadership.
Next came the contest to determine what a post-Hoyte PNC should look like. This time two longstanding Burnham apostles squared off. It turned out to be a contest between the party machine represented by Robert Corbin and the party’s intellectual wing represented by Vincent Alexander. The PNC came out of that contest in which Corbin prevailed, a very fractured party. Alexander had dropped out of the race citing irregularities. In fact, the intellectual wing which supported him never really rejoined the leadership—a development that has since seriously affected the party’s ability to articulate an ideological outlook and a vision for 21st century Guyana.
The subsequent leadership contest between David Granger and Carl Greenidge further exposed the deep factionalism which had developed within the party. It was a race for the soul of the post-Corbin PNC. The scars of the heated and controversial contest are still raw. Greenidge and his followers have since played little or no role in the party’s formal leadership.
That race was really a contest between two “outsiders” – neither Mr. Granger nor Mr. Greenidge had been party activists. Greenidge had served as Minister under Hoyte, but was more a government player than a party man. He left soon after the party lost power in 1992. As a soldier, Granger could not be a party man. But even when he left the army, he did not become a party activist.
It is no secret that Mr. Granger narrowly won that contest because Corbin had put the party’s machinery at his disposal. The rest is now history. Granger’s newness was pivotal in cementing APNU and the APNU+AFC coalition. Corbin’s single-minded determination to pursue coalition-politics as the PNC’s route to power, and his decision to step aside and allow a new leader paid off, even if he, Corbin, the architect of the strategy, is not given the credit he deserves.
Ideology is no longer an issue within the PNC or in any of Guyana’s political parties. Every major party accepts the neo-liberal model or what they think it means. Political and economic pragmatism are both ideology and strategy. Packaging and sound bites are both marketing tools and substance. Policy and vision are afterthoughts. The party plays little or no role in guiding direction, vision and policies of the government. It is against this background that the current race for the party’s chairmanship should be analyzed.
The party is in government—it controls the government. There is dissatisfaction with the government’s performance by its supporters. Key constituencies such as teachers, public servants, villagers and youth are crying out for policy attention. There is dissatisfaction among the coalition parties over the management of decision-making within the coalition. The coalition is shaky—it’s only the continued lure of office that keeps the equilibrium. The oil and gas wealth is coming shortly. How are poor people going to benefit from this? We know how the rich will benefit, but how will the poor be lifted in the short and long term?
These are the pivotal questions that I think the candidates for this high-powered PNC contest must address if they are serious about the country’s future. This is now not just a race for the most delegates at Congress; it is an opportunity to individually and together tell Guyana where the PNC in government intends to take Guyana in the next decade. If the candidates are serious, they could reset the PNC’s trajectory in Guyanese politics and give the party a new positive outlook that encourages confidence in the wider population.
Ms. Lawrence says that the party was elected to bring change. She has come out against corruption in her Ministry. Mr. Williams has touted the party’s winning team, but he says little about the winning strategy. Mr. Harmon projects himself as the fresh alternative to party tribalism—the candidate of inclusiveness. But none of them has addressed the real serious issues of the day—the issues that unite and divide and animate Guyanese. Leadership is largely about inspiring confidence and articulating vision. There is too little of that in this campaign. But, it’s not too late for the contestants to step up to the challenge.
Does the PNC still believe that coalition politics is the future? If so, will it continue with the strategy of dominating the coalition or will it strive for a more even-handed approach.
Do the candidates support improved wage packages for teachers and other public servants today? Will they fight for it in public, within the PNC and APNU and in cabinet? What is your plan to use oil and gas wealth to decrease poverty in Guyana and empower poor people starting today? Will you fight to move the state media away from a partisan media to an independent disseminator of news, views and information? What will you do today to make Indian Guyanese, Amerindians and independent African Guyanese less scared of the PNC?
More of Dr. Hinds’ writings and commentaries can be found on his YouTube Channel Hinds’ Sight: Dr. David Hinds’ Guyana-Caribbean Politics and on his website www.guyanacaribbeanpolitics.news. Send comments to [email protected]
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