It is not a simple matter to write about the PNCR. Leaders are forever reluctant to talk to outsiders about internal party matters even when they are aware that the outsiders can be trusted not to reveal confidences. Serious journalists and columnists are not interested in disclosing information, but they are interested in making informed analyses. Information not readily available to the public enables them to do so. And so I begin this two-part series on the PNCR, a party with whose internal dynamics I am not familiar, at a disadvantage, having to rely solely on public information. I am not certain that the PPP is much different. Since I left that party in 2012, very few senior members with valuable analytical ability are willing to concede any valuable information.
When a party leader in Guyana is giving up, as President Granger has been doing since the elections in March last year, everyone would normally know, particularly party members, who are the life and soul of the party. Guyanese have had to gaze at a crystal ball and a trickle of information to discern the direction of the PNCR. The first indication of things happening was derived from nothing happening. After the elections President Granger retreated to his home at Pearl, went on an indeterminate period of leave and has since maintained a steadfast silence.
However, before doing so, he had already spoken loudly and clearly when he omitted from selection as members of parliament the entire front bench of the PNCR. Three things became clear. Firstly, he felt the time had come for a renewal of leadership. Secondly, he would not contest the position. Thirdly, he wanted Joe Harmon to succeed. While selecting Joe Harmon was a gamble, because he was defeated by Volda Lawrence a while back for the position of Chair, President Granger, in one fell swoop, wrote off the entire front bench and top leadership of the PNCR. Almost everybody was senior to Joe Harmon so that to open the way for Joe Harmon to obtain the advantage, all those senior to him had to be omitted from the parliament so that Joe Harmon could gain the coveted position of Opposition Leader. The launching of his leadership campaign was facilitated and aided from that authoritative position. He has declared that he will remain in the position, even if he loses.
Senior members of the PNCR all appear to have accepted that a new wave of leadership is on the move. Basil Williams, a former chair, Volda Lawrence, current chair, Carl Greenidge, former candidate for leader, who is widely believed to have been cheated out of the position in 2011, and former Minister of Finance in the 1980s and, more recently, Foreign Affairs, and now Amna Ally, current general secretary, all appear to have declined to contest front line positions. The way is therefore open for Joe Harmon, Aubrey Norton and Richard Van West Charles in the leadership contest and new faces for the lower, but important, positions. Whether the elections results will emerge with the controversies that bedeviled past elections is not known. But a past victim of such controversies, Vincent Alexander, is in charge of the elections. He might be a controversial member of the elections commission of Guyana, but I doubt that he bears the same reputation as the head the elections for the PNCR, a party of which he is always at pains to remind everyone that he is not a member. Is it because when Mr. Alexander speaks, everyone seems to forget that he is not a member of the PNCR?
Events at the time of writing suggest that this will not be the usual type of Congress that will debate the great issues of the day, the major challenges to the party, chart a course for the future and select a leadership to guide it forward. Such a course would not have been expected to do more than rant and rave at the ‘installed regime’ and its ‘discriminatory’ policies, but nevertheless a few shafts of light might have pierced through the walls of Congress Place to give some indication of whether any serious policy discourses emerged from the debates. Hopefully, however, the successful leader would have prepared a policy statement to be delivered on the conclusion of the process for the expectant public.
Part of the strategy of both the PPP and the PNC to sustain the support of its bases is to appear as militant as possible. The more intense the criticism levelled by one party against the other, the greater is the acclaim of the critic. Militancy is not seen only as a tactic, it is the bedrock of strategy for all ethnically divided societies. This has led many to believe that the greater the militancy, the more effective the leader. This strategy is more important for the party in opposition because it has little less to offer its supporters. Hopefully, there will be something behind the expected bluster of the elected leader.