Trends have emerged in Guyana where political parties, principally the PNCR, sometimes define their responsibilities as relating to only those who they ‘represent’ or their ‘supporters’ or who ‘voted for them,’ even though, as Government or Opposition, they are expected to represent the interests of all Guyanese. But political polarization over the years has created an outlook so partisan in nature that political parties are tempted to look out for, or confine their responsibilities to, only those who voted for them. The PNCR, as the PPP generally does, should hold itself out as representing all Guyanese and its policies should be so explained, if it intends to acquire and retain, broad appeal. With both parties adopting a national mandate, a division in either weakens its capacity to represent the interests of the Guyanese nation.
Some may gloat at the current rift in the leadership of the PNCR and hope for its continuation. But a disunited PNCR is not good for Guyana. Guyana faces difficult and challenging times ahead as it seeks to set in place the systems, structures and mechanisms for the oil and gas sector, soon to be one million barrels a day, or even more, if discoveries contiue. These include many important issues such as: the fair distribution of opportunities and resources, preventing the growth and influence of oligarchical groups, limiting the impact of the wealthy on policy creation, credible infrastructural plans, developing social services, sound economic policies, creation of new industries to take Guyana beyond oil, the high importance of world class education, immigration and citizenship policies, poverty alleviation, are all new and daunting issues that Guyana will face, apart from current constitutional matters requiring consultation. Ethnic divisions and allegations of marginalization and discrimination will remain sharp but can be addressed as part of the larger picture. The PNCR needs to equip itself to develop or challenge policies and to creatively contribute to these new challenges. It is not so equipped now and has no current capacity to ‘hold the PPP’s feet to the fire,’ on these or any other matters, except perhaps to create more rowdy episodes in Parliament and elsewhere.
At the PNCR’s leadership elections Aubrey Norton and his team won an overwhelming victory. He now has a rightful claim to the offices that go along with the leadership, principally, parliamentary seats for him and his team, and that of the Leader of the Opposition. Mr. Harmon’s claim to entitlement to the latter office for a full term of five years based on constitutional grounds could not be serious. President David Granger, who held and still holds the position of Representative of the List (Representative), sought by a sleight of hand to deliver the leadership of the PNCR to Joe Harmon. Using his authority as Representative, he omitted from selection all those in the PNCR who were senior to Mr. Harmon, thereby elevating the latter as the most senior candidate for Leader of the Opposition.
David Granger, Joe Harmon and their team lost, and they should now give up gracefully. There is nothing in the Constitution of Guyana that provides that Mr. Harmon is entitled to a five-year term. The fact that the Constitution provides for a procedure for removal of the Leader of the Opposition by a vote of no confidence rejects such a notion. A large part of the PNCR’s leadership and membership, and many outside, may not have been happy with both Mr. Norton personally and his politics and style. But he won and is entitled to the opportunity and wherewithal to lead as Leader of the Opposition and Representative. Ideas of a compromise, with Mr. Harmon’s resignation, but not Mr. Norton’s elevation, would no doubt be considered ludicrous by Mr. Norton.
The post of Representative is provided for in the Representation of the People Act. He/she is merely the point of contact between the Chief Election Officer and a contesting political party. Part of his/her function is the transmission of the names of persons selected as MPs by the contesting party that wins seats to the Chief Election Officer. Nothing in the Act endows him/her with dictatorial powers. The relationship between the Representative and the the political party, is a matter between the two. But it is expected that a collegial basis for selection, and not an autocratic one, accords with democratic norms. In the PPP the leading party bodies approve the selection of MPs. It is not known what happens or happened in the PNCR in 2020. But clearly the selection of MPs accommodated Mr. Harmon’s election as Leader of the Opposition and was not a harmonious process. Now that the tables have been turned, Mr. Granger, no longer in any leadership position, ought to relinquish the position of Representative to Mr. Norton.
Unless the divisions in the PNCR are resolved by solving the leadership crisis in the manner suggested above, the PNCR will not be able to equip and elevate itself to deal with the consequential matters outlined above. It will forever be thrashing about and devoting its energies in defence of its members’ accusations of others of “house negro” and “trench crappo.”