I NEVER DECLINED


The month of August marks 25years since the PPP’s selection of Mrs. Janet Jagan in 1997 as its presidential candidate for the elections due later that year. I was the only other person seriously nominated. Why I was not selected is now only an asterisk in history, if so much.  However, a few still consider it a matter of interest. In a social media programme a few weeks ago, “Gildarie and Freddie,” at which Mr. Clement Rohee was a guest, he was asked about the event. Mr. Rohee said that after attacks by Moses Nagamootoo at the meeting to select the candidate, I declined the nomination. This is not so. I now seek to set the record straight. I will write in the future in more detail about these events.

One Saturday midday in July, 1997, at Freedom House, Mrs. Jagan told me that the Party will soon have to choose its presidential candidate. She said that she was not suitable because she is white, of advanced years (77), in poor health and cannot work for a full day. She enquired if I would accept the nomination. I answered in the affirmative. The same day I told Donald Ramotar, Feroze Mohamed and Harry Nawbatt of the conversation. The latter was not a member of the Party’s leadership at that time. It later leaked to members of the PPP executive. Campaigning and factionalism in the PPP were frowned upon, and I naively did not expect that an organized group would openly gang up against me. I therefore did not plan for what was to come. My few closest friends in the leadership knew but kept me in the dark. Public interest had been at its height and my name featured as the potential candidate.

In August Mrs. Jagan opened the meeting of the 20-member executive committee of the PPP with a long presentation, repeating what she had told me and ending by nominating me, Clement Rohee and Bharrat Jagdeo, but undertaking to refine her nomination in case of difficulty in choosing. Both Rohee and Jagdeo promptly declined. Rohee said that everyone knew who the preferred nominee was. Members around the room made their contributions to the proposal, with a decisive majority speaking in my favour. Some had a qualification, namely, that they were supporting me only on condition that Mrs. Jagan continues to decline. My closest friends remained silent.

The last few persons to speak, sitting together in a corner of the room, carried out an unprecedented, uncomradely, vulgar and organized demonization of me. They argued that I never went on a demonstration, I never lifted a placard, I am not known to Party members across the country and that I am an elitist and the candidate of the middle class. Moses Nagamootoo, one of them, layered his remarks with particular venom. Roger Luncheon supported the arguments and added that the PPP never had anyone other than a Jagan as candidate and that the Party has a Jagan available. He asked if we wanted to take the chance of losing the elections by not having Mrs. Jagan as the candidate. He dismissed Mrs. Jagan’s concerns. Mrs. Jagan responded sharply to the criticisms of me and so did I, joined by the late Fazal Ally and Clinton Collymore. Again, my closest friends, who had powerful voices, remained silent. If they had spoken up and pushed back, it would have made all the difference. By their silence, they helped to sink my nomination.

The following conclusions emerged: There were several persons who desired the nomination but felt that if I were the candidate, they would have had to wait for ten years – too long and with many imponderables. The only way to derail my nomination was to persuade Mrs. Jagan to accept. Since Mrs. Jagan could not possibly have served two five-year terms, their wait would be cut in half. Hence, the attacks on me and the promotion of Mrs. Jagan, who did not see the strategy. Despite the negative factors Mrs. Jagan had mentioned, she warmed to the possibility of being president and at the same time feared a division in the Party if I were the candidate. Those fears were unfounded. There was an upsurge in sympathy for the PPP, Cheddi Jagan having died in March. The PPP won the elections with 54 percent of the vote, the highest recorded in its history. Those same critics, including Nagamootoo, would have been lining up for jobs. I did not decline the nomination. Mrs. Jagan was persuaded to accept it for herself.

Mrs. Jagan then suggested that having regard to her age, the Party needed to present a team which would satisfy the public that stability would prevail if she could not continue in office. She suggested Sam Hinds and myself. I accepted, with a condition. My two sons were attending university abroad. I was funding them out of income as I had no savings. I pointed out that if I joined the government on a ministerial salary (as opposed to the tax-free presidential salary), which was a quarter that of the president and taxable, I would not be able to maintain my children in school and would have to bring them home. I offered to accept an appointment as an unpaid adviser which would enable me to attend cabinet meetings and keep my job in order to fund my children’s studies until they were finished in two or three years after which I can join the government. President Hoyte had several such advisers. Nagamootoo thundered “We all have children,” intent on ensuring that I was not the designated successor to Mrs. Jagan. He called my suggestion “obscene.”

For the second time Mrs. Jagan nominated me and then backed away when pressured. The view of my opponents, strongly contested by me, was that as part of the ‘team’ I had to join the government to ‘learn’ how to be president. Had I done so I would have had to terminate my children’s education. No one suggested scholarships which were available. I mentioned several successful heads of government without prior governmental experience. Again, the silence of my good friends and valued comrades sank this nomination as well. I know of no parent who would make a different decision, faced with the same circumstances. I did not decline. I accepted but my proposal to deal with my temporary circumstances was rejected.

Since the conclusion of the meeting had become clear, I left because of the baseless “obscene” allegation by Nagamootoo, which no one objected to or condemned. I was undecided as to what to do thereafter and began to return files concerning the PPP. After a few weeks Mrs. Jagan persuaded me to return. The second time I walked, in June 2012, once again for abusive conduct to me over the issue of corruption, which was not called out, I did not return.

After I left the meeting ended and the following week Bharrat Jagdeo was selected to be a part of the team. It turned out that my closest comrades in the leadership who had remained silent were quite happy that I was not the candidate or the potential successor. Though not my life’s favourite episode, I recall the events with great pride because the vast majority of my colleagues in the leadership of the PPP considered me worthy to succeed Cheddi Jagan. I have all their names and a contemporaneous record of the events.

The public was surprised at the outcome. It was expected that I would be nominated. No explanation was given as to why I was not. This opened the way for rumours to flourish, the main one being that I had declined the nomination because I wanted to remain in my law practice to make money. Of course, nothing could be further from the truth. Who, offered a presidential nomination for his/her country, would decline for such a base reason? I hope that this brings clarity to those now distant events. 

Ralph Ramkarran

The month of August marks 25years since the PPP’s selection of Mrs. Janet Jagan in 1997 as its presidential candidate for the elections due later that year. I was the only other person seriously nominated. Why I was not selected is now only an asterisk in history, if so much.  However, a few still consider it a matter of interest. In a social media programme a few weeks ago, “Gildarie and Freddie,” at which Mr. Clement Rohee was a guest, he was asked about the event. Mr. Rohee said that after attacks by Moses Nagamootoo at the meeting to select the candidate, I declined the nomination. This is not so. I now seek to set the record straight. I will write in the future in more detail about these events.

One Saturday midday in July, 1997, at Freedom House, Mrs. Jagan told me that the Party will soon have to choose its presidential candidate. She said that she was not suitable because she is white, of advanced years (77), in poor health and cannot work for a full day. She enquired if I would accept the nomination. I answered in the affirmative. The same day I told Donald Ramotar, Feroze Mohamed and Harry Nawbatt of the conversation. The latter was not a member of the Party’s leadership at that time. It later leaked to members of the PPP executive. Campaigning and factionalism in the PPP were frowned upon, and I naively did not expect that an organized group would openly gang up against me. I therefore did not plan for what was to come. My few closest friends in the leadership knew but kept me in the dark. Public interest had been at its height and my name featured as the potential candidate.

In August Mrs. Jagan opened the meeting of the 20-member executive committee of the PPP with a long presentation, repeating what she had told me and ending by nominating me, Clement Rohee and Bharrat Jagdeo, but undertaking to refine her nomination in case of difficulty in choosing. Both Rohee and Jagdeo promptly declined. Rohee said that everyone knew who the preferred nominee was. Members around the room made their contributions to the proposal, with a decisive majority speaking in my favour. Some had a qualification, namely, that they were supporting me only on condition that Mrs. Jagan continues to decline. My closest friends remained silent.

The last few persons to speak, sitting together in a corner of the room, carried out an unprecedented, uncomradely, vulgar and organized demonization of me. They argued that I never went on a demonstration, I never lifted a placard, I am not known to Party members across the country and that I am an elitist and the candidate of the middle class. Moses Nagamootoo, one of them, layered his remarks with particular venom. Roger Luncheon supported the arguments and added that the PPP never had anyone other than a Jagan as candidate and that the Party has a Jagan available. He asked if we wanted to take the chance of losing the elections by not having Mrs. Jagan as the candidate. He dismissed Mrs. Jagan’s concerns. Mrs. Jagan responded sharply to the criticisms of me and so did I, joined by the late Fazal Ally and Clinton Collymore. Again, my closest friends, who had powerful voices, remained silent. If they had spoken up and pushed back, it would have made all the difference. By their silence, they helped to sink my nomination.

The following conclusions emerged: There were several persons who desired the nomination but felt that if I were the candidate, they would have had to wait for ten years – too long and with many imponderables. The only way to derail my nomination was to persuade Mrs. Jagan to accept. Since Mrs. Jagan could not possibly have served two five-year terms, their wait would be cut in half. Hence, the attacks on me and the promotion of Mrs. Jagan, who did not see the strategy. Despite the negative factors Mrs. Jagan had mentioned, she warmed to the possibility of being president and at the same time feared a division in the Party if I were the candidate. Those fears were unfounded. There was an upsurge in sympathy for the PPP, Cheddi Jagan having died in March. The PPP won the elections with 54 percent of the vote, the highest recorded in its history. Those same critics, including Nagamootoo, would have been lining up for jobs. I did not decline the nomination. Mrs. Jagan was persuaded to accept it for herself.

Mrs. Jagan then suggested that having regard to her age, the Party needed to present a team which would satisfy the public that stability would prevail if she could not continue in office. She suggested Sam Hinds and myself. I accepted, with a condition. My two sons were attending university abroad. I was funding them out of income as I had no savings. I pointed out that if I joined the government on a ministerial salary (as opposed to the tax-free presidential salary), which was a quarter that of the president and taxable, I would not be able to maintain my children in school and would have to bring them home. I offered to accept an appointment as an unpaid adviser which would enable me to attend cabinet meetings and keep my job in order to fund my children’s studies until they were finished in two or three years after which I can join the government. President Hoyte had several such advisers. Nagamootoo thundered “We all have children,” intent on ensuring that I was not the designated successor to Mrs. Jagan. He called my suggestion “obscene.”

For the second time Mrs. Jagan nominated me and then backed away when pressured. The view of my opponents, strongly contested by me, was that as part of the ‘team’ I had to join the government to ‘learn’ how to be president. Had I done so I would have had to terminate my children’s education. No one suggested scholarships which were available. I mentioned several successful heads of government without prior governmental experience. Again, the silence of my good friends and valued comrades sank this nomination as well. I know of no parent who would make a different decision, faced with the same circumstances. I did not decline. I accepted but my proposal to deal with my temporary circumstances was rejected.

Since the conclusion of the meeting had become clear, I left because of the baseless “obscene” allegation by Nagamootoo, which no one objected to or condemned. I was undecided as to what to do thereafter and began to return files concerning the PPP. After a few weeks Mrs. Jagan persuaded me to return. The second time I walked, in June 2012, once again for abusive conduct to me over the issue of corruption, which was not called out, I did not return.

After I left the meeting ended and the following week Bharrat Jagdeo was selected to be a part of the team. It turned out that my closest comrades in the leadership who had remained silent were quite happy that I was not the candidate or the potential successor. Though not my life’s favourite episode, I recall the events with great pride because the vast majority of my colleagues in the leadership of the PPP considered me worthy to succeed Cheddi Jagan. I have all their names and a contemporaneous record of the events.

The public was surprised at the outcome. It was expected that I would be nominated. No explanation was given as to why I was not. This opened the way for rumours to flourish, the main one being that I had declined the nomination because I wanted to remain in my law practice to make money. Of course, nothing could be further from the truth. Who, offered a presidential nomination for his/her country, would decline for such a base reason? I hope that this brings clarity to those now distant events. 

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