The fundamental objective of a political party is to gain political office and implement its policies for the benefit of the country. After months of grueling effort, Aubrey Norton has finally succeeded in overcoming ‘factionalism’ in the PNC by being nominated for a seat in the National Assembly and being elected as Opposition Leader. The word ‘factionalism’ is adopted from an editorial in Village Voice, an internet newspaper that is generally sympathetic to the Opposition. It discussed Norton’s journey from candidate to Opposition Leader.
It is generally difficult in Guyana to interrogate factionalism in the PPP and PNC because information about internal differences of opinion is unavailable or unreliable. In the case of Mr. Norton’s rise to the leadership of the PNC, it is a bit easier because he has been an odd man out in its leadership having quarreled with Hoyte, Corbin and Granger. No doubt he would have quarreled with Burnham as well. Presumably the ‘factions’ referred to in the editorial of Village Voice are those who supported the Granger/Harmon effort to retain the leadership, which appeared to include the majority of Members of Parliament, and the newly elected Central Executive members of the PNC who swept to office as supporters of Norton. If this is the case then the ‘factionalism’ was set aside, perhaps temporarily, with the Granger-appointed APNU MPs supporting the candidacy of Mr. Norton for Opposition Leader.
The conclusion of the lengthy, internal, process from victory as party leader to Opposition Leader was handled with sensitivity by Mr. Norton. But his first words gave doubt to the notion that his objective is to win office and implement policies for the benefit of the nation. He said: he will perform his constitutional duties as Opposition Leader and discuss with the Speaker his concerns about the management of the National Assembly. He promised, some would say threatened, that if his concerns were not addressed, he would act ‘politically’ or deploy ‘extra parliamentary’ tactics. Verbal persuasion as a tactic to secure the Government’s acceptance of his policies and recognizing that a motion to the National Assembly with a dozen or so ‘whereas’ clauses is dead in the water, do not appear to have entered the agenda of Mr. Norton. Rampaging through the streets, sometimes with violence against Indians, has long been the PNC’s view of the only successful methodology of ‘persuading’ the PPP. Let us hope that this is not what Mr. Norton has in mind.
It is not street politics but a fortuitous coalition that brough the PNC to office in 2015. Tainted by the West Berbice anti-Indian violence, a tried and tested tactic, and the ignominious defeat of its attempt to unlawfully hold on to power in 2020, Mr. Norton probably knows that it is the PPP that holds the overwhelming advantage for 2025 and will not give it up. Maybe when Mr. Norton spoke, he was looking over his shoulder to the militants. But there are other policy voices – those of David Hinds and Henry Jeffrey in Village Voice. I am fully aware that in both major parties, militancy is a vehicle to leadership and its sustained retention. Desmond Hoyte and Bharrat Jagdeo mastered the art. But Desmond Hoyte could not achieve power in the era of free and fair elections. Bharrat Jagdeo did. Mr. Norton, therefore, has to choose: find a path to political office either in coalition with another political force that does not now exist, the AFC having become ‘dead meat;’ find a path to political office through power sharing with a better and stronger partner – the PPP; or remain in traditional opposition. Street politics which the PNC has tried since 1992 has not succeeded. Mr. Norton does not have time on his side. He is 65.
For the PNC, shared governance is not going to be easy to restore on its agenda, having proclaimed it in 2015 and promptly abandoned it thereafter. The PNC is also not going to find in the PPP a receptive partner having survived more than twenty years in office with one interruption, despite its history of support of shared governance, as opposed to inclusive governance, which it is now being bandied about. Like the PPP, the PNC has a history, albeit shorter, of supporting shared governance, however checkered. Extra-parliamentary activity directed to complaining about ethnic wrongs is a dead end. Redressing ethnic wrongs by institutional rectification would be a platform that will lift Mr. Norton to statesman-like political heights. Mr. Norton supported shared governance in the late 1980s. He has never changed his position. Leaping up again on the shared governance platform for Mr. Norton would be as difficult as persuading the PPP to leap off the crest of the wave that it is now riding, with limitless possibilities of offering more and better services and higher incomes which Mr. Norton must know that the PPP will exploit politically, if covertly. Mr. Norton is at a fork in the road. One leads to an asterisk in history. The other leads to a Nobel Peace Prize nomination.