(Speech to New York Diaspora 8th October, 2017)
October 5 will forever be remembered in the history of Guyana as the date when a short-lived democracy was restored. Our freedom was obtained on May 26, 1966, after a ‘fiddled constitutional arrangement,’ as described by Harold Wilson, former Prime Minister of the UK, when he was Opposition Leader. The constitutional arrangement was fiddled for the 1964 elections by the imposition of proportional representation, but there was no claim that the elections held in 1964 had been rigged. Nor was there any such claim in relation to the previous elections held in 1961, 1957 and 1953, all won by the PPP. The period of formal democracy lasted from 1966, the year of Independence, until 1968 when it was crushed, when the elections were first rigged.
The rigging of the 1968, 1973, 1980 and 1985 elections have been fully documented elsewhere and there is no need for me to set out the details. But I should remind you that the entire gamut of manipulative techniques was employed. Among them were overseas voting by non-existent persons, padded electoral lists in Guyana by non-existent and deceased persons, multiple voting, proxy voting, postal voting and ballot box stuffing. This was accomplished by removing the bottoms of the wooden boxes which were nailed in, removing the genuine ballots, stuffing the boxes with false ballots and nailing in the bottoms of the boxes. After the 1992 elections the PPP was told this by several persons who had participated in these events.
Laws were passed that removed all but the formal powers of the Elections Commission and handed over the management of the elections to the Chief Elections Officer, who was appointed by the Government and not the Elections Commission. Counting of the votes at the place of poll was abolished and ballots were counted at regional centres. These were guarded by armed soldiers, and no Opposition observers were allowed to be present. Large scale intimidation was used to ensure that opposition polling agents were not allowed into polling stations or to follow the boxes in their own vehicles.
It is also important to recall that opposition to the rigging of elections never subsided. The Peoples Progressive Party campaigned against the rigging of the 1968 elections in the period leading up to the elections. A strong campaign was launched in London. I was then active in the PPP UK Branch. That is how the British press became interested. The television programme, “The Making of a Prime Minister,” by Panorama, was a landmark event. The 1973 elections provoked even more international attention by TV programmes as well as greater internal and external opposition. I served as a member of the Elections Commission for that period and witnessed first hand the impotence of the Commission and the rigging of the elections. Struggles were also undertaken in the US, particularly in New York by the large Guyanese diaspora and these were particularly effective. Many of those persons are still involved in Guyana’s affairs, protecting our democratic gains and contributing ideas and resources to our development. We must not forget Guyanese in Canada and the Caribbean.
The struggle of 1973 triggered new political formations and civil society groups including representatives of the main religious groups, which joined the struggle for free and fair elections. The most important of these was the WPA which played a substantial role in mobilizing and uniting the people against the government. The Catholic Standard, which obviously reflected the views of the Catholic Church, which had played a reactionary role in the early 1960s, constantly exposed abuses of all kinds. This was at a time when the flagship print media opposition, the Mirror, had been brought to its knees by the withdrawal of its capacity to obtain newsprint, even as gifts from the Jamaica Gleaner.
A major and significant struggle took place towards the end of the 1970s in the struggle against the referendum to remove the need for a referendum to amend the constitution. The government proposed a new constitution because of unnamed deficiencies of the alleged ‘colonial’ constitution. This triggered substantial political and civic unity against the referendum which was massively rigged. A boycott was called and the monitoring of the polling stations showed that only 15 percent of the electorate turned out to vote. The unity forged in this period was ultimately responsible, with many other factors, of course, for the restoration of free and fair elections in 1992.
The loss of Walter Rodney, the defeat in the referendum struggle in the late 1970s, the imposition of the new constitution in 1980 and the rigging of the elections of that year sapped enthusiasm but did not diminish the traditional struggle of the PPP for free and fair elections which was attracting more and more adherents in and out of Guyana.
The economy continued to plunge in a downward spiral and the government had no answer to the growing impoverishment of the Guyanese people.
One significant factor which had emerged since the time of the referendum which continued for the 1980 and 1985 elections was the refusal of PNC supporters in PNC strongholds to turn out to vote. By 1985 Burnham had died and Desmond Hoyte became president. This did not affect the 1985 elections which were as severely rigged as the past elections. The Patriotic Coalition for Democracy was formed in 1985 with the WPA and PDM and smaller parties and remained active up to the 1992 elections.
Gorbachev became the new leader of the Soviet Union in 1985. There followed a dizzying series of reforms in the Soviet Union and a transformation of international relations, particularly between the Soviet Union and the United States and Europe. In Nicaragua where a decade old civil war had been ongoing, the Sandinista government agreed in 1989 to have supervised elections supported by both the Soviet Union and the United States. In fact, it was believed that it was at the instance of the United States that the Soviet Union pressured the Sandinista government into the agreement. It was expected that the Sandinistas would win. They lost the elections in early 1990.
Cde. Cheddi Jagan wrote to both President Bush and President Gorbachev in 1989. He reviewed the Nicaragua experience where the Soviet Union cooperated with the United States in having free and fair elections in which a friend of the Soviet Union was involved.
He then explained the Guyana situation where the United States had tolerated rigged elections since 1968 in order to prevent the PPP, a friend of the Soviet Union, from winning political office. The message in the letter was that if the Soviet Union can pressure one of its friends to hold free and fair elections at the instance of the United States, why couldn’t the United States pressure one of its friends, the PNC, to hold free and fair elections. There was, of course, no reply. But in his 1990 Republic Day message President George H.W. Bush expressed the hope that the upcoming elections would be free and fair. We felt that the die was cast. Free and fair elections were in the air.
The struggle had a far way to go to succeed. Congressmen and Senators, the most prominent being Senator Kennedy, were lobbied to send messages. The IMF and World Bank, which had provided Guyana an economic lifeline, held their hand until free and fair elections. More importantly, the mobilization in Guyana, the United States, the UK, Canada and the Caribbean was crucial. Eventually the Guyana Government was forced into accepting the Carter Centre as the main observer, which established a presence in Guyana from 1990, monitoring every detail of the process. By this time the GUARD Movement had emerged and began to mobilise a large part of the middle class who became vocal and came out on the streets.
It was not an easy task. There had to be a struggle for a new, expanded, Elections Commission. Eventually President Carter persuaded President Hoyte to remove former Chief Justice Bollers and asked us for six names to give to Hoyte to choose a chair. Myself and others worked hard to get the names. Most of the people we asked were very afraid but eventually we persuaded six distinguished Guyanese to allow their names to go forward. That’s how Rudy Collins was appointed and how the formula came into being.
We eventually won, as well, counting at the place of poll, the presence of polling agents and their accreditation, the signing of statements of poll by all polling agents as the basis of compiling the results and the presence of counting agents. For the compiling of the electoral roll the parties are now entitled to have party scrutineers monitoring the process.
While the frightening electoral violence of 1992, which I personally experienced, has continued after the following two elections, all the elections have been certified.
Unfortunately, recent experiences have taught us that continued vigilance is absolutely necessary. The arbitrary determination that the constitution meant that only a judge, a former judge or a person qualified to be a judge is qualified to be appointed as chair of the elections commission, that all six names must be acceptable, without a chair being yet appointed, suggests that instead of going forward in electoral matters, there is great danger of regression, of going backward.
The judiciary has upheld the generally accepted interpretation of the constitution that most lawyers have supported. The chief justice held that any fit and proper person, not being a judge, former judge or person qualified to be a judge, can be appointed; that both categories have equal weight; that if one person is found to be acceptable that person ought to be appointed; and that the president must give reasons for rejecting names. This decision demonstrates that the judiciary today is not the judiciary of the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. Further, Guyana’s highest court is now the Caribbean Court of Justice, from which an appeal from our court of appeal can be made. The CCJ is wholly independent. While, therefore, vigilance continues to be necessary, the situation today is not what it was in the past.
Because of our history and the recent failure of the government to select a chair of the elections commission and misinterpreting the constitution, great fears are being generated in the country about the elections in 2020. I am not making any accusations, nor am I making any predictions. I am merely reflecting a concern among some that has arisen as a result of the events that I have described above.
These concerns have been aggravated by the economic and political situation which has been developing over the past two years. Guyana showed economic progress since 1992. It started during the Hoyte years shortly after the economic reforms and continued up to 1997. Economic growth slowed somewhat for some years then picked up again, outpacing economies in the region as well as during the world economic slowdown from 2008, by which Guyana was unaffected. There were many factors responsible for this. One was the continuous inflow of grants, aid and investments. Another was high commodity prices, in particular gold, and the Venezuelan market for rice. Yet another was better economic management. Even though I was not in the cabinet, I know from my political activity that progressing projects, getting them completed and spending budgetary allocations was one of the most vitally important tasks of the government. Generating economic activity and investing in the economy were understood to be vitally necessary for growth in the economy. Today, there is a chronic underspending right across the government.
The new government faced a downturn in commodity prices shortly after it came into office. It chose to treat with the declining government revenue as a result of the slump, mainly of gold and sugar prices and the loss of the Venezuelan market for rice, and reducing production in other areas such as forestry, construction and others, by increasing taxes, particularly value added tax. As these taxes take money out of the economy, economic activity is reducing and is unemployment is rising. As the average worker would say, things bad and getting worse. An alternative course could have been not to increase taxes that affect consumption and production and to aggressively spend every penny that was available. This course was not taken. The basic economic fact is that unless money is spent and/or invested in the economy, it would not grow. The Government appears to be incapable of spending its budgetary allocations. No explanation has been given as to the reasons and no enterprising journalist has investigated. Under the PPP, budgetary allocations were spend and there was much governmental and presidential effort that went into achieving this. Is the reason incompetence? Is the reason the firing of the people who undertook these complex tasks? We simply don’t know and the government does not appear to have a clue either.
There is no polling in Guyana so we are not aware of the views of the electorate. But my sense is that because of the economic downturn to 3 percent economic growth, enthusiasm for the government has substantially reduced. The AFC, which obtained a good deal of support from PPP supporters, has now lost that support. Some of the middle class supporters of the AFC have formed a new organization called RISE. It may well emerge as a political party. After the experience of the AFC I do not see any third party doing well unless certain conditions are satisfied. The disaffected sections of the electorate when the AFC contested elections in 2006, 2011 and 2015 are still somewhat dissatisfied, although the ethnic factor has resulted in the Indian and African portions of the AFC’s support to return to their traditional parties and thereby reduced the size of those dissatisfied. A third party has to analyse the disaffected sections of the electorate and present leaders who will attract those voters after doing the necessary groundwork. More than anything else, such a party must publicly pledge that it intends, if it does not gain a majority, never to join in any government and to hold the balance of power against the government formed to protect the people of Guyana. That is, assuming it gets enough seats to hold the balance of power.
The loss of elections after twenty years in power is traumatic for anyone as it was for the PPP. But a certain political logic exists in many countries. After two terms of the popular Bill Clinton administration and a growing economy, Al Gore lost the elections to George W, Bush because the US electorate did not want a third Clinton term. After two terms of the historic Barak Obama presidency and a growing economy, Hillary Clinton lost to Donald Trump, partly because a critical section of the electorate did not want a third Obama term. It is quite likely that the electorate in Guyana had the same feeling, despite all round progress in Guyana. In fact, Guyana was a much improved country to what it was ten years before.
The PPP needed another vision and a candidate who could believably and credibly articulate that vision. I am not saying that the candidate could not. I am saying that there was no vision to articulate. The vision of ‘Dawn of a new era’ was exhausted and could no longer work. The novelty of a new PPP government had worn off. The PPP was under severe criticism for many things and despite the progress, some of these criticisms were resonating among the electorate, including, as the results showed, among PPP supporters. One was corruption. The candidate said it was mostly perception, giving the impression that he intended to do nothing about this grave problem.
The PPP needed a new, different and commanding vision to motivate its supporters. Its vision needed in one sentence that would capture how it would address the criticisms which it was undergoing, how it would reduce political tension for the future, how it would continue economic progress and resolve of the problems in the sugar industry, in particular the Sheldon Factory. Such a vision would have been, in my humble view, constitutional reform which would enshrine ‘winner does not take all’ policy which Cheddi Jagan endorsed and promised up to 1991. The vision the PPP would have been putting forward was that there would be no losers in Guyana’s politics. There would only be winners. Elections would be a festival, celebrating our ethnicity, not a census, condemning the loser to marginalization. Not having conceived such a vision, the PPP failed to secure itself in office.
In any part of the rational political world, when a political party gains the highest votes at elections but not an absolute majority, it negotiates the support of one or more of the other political parties to ensure majority support to carry out its programme. This happens all over Europe and is happening in Germany as we speak. In 2011 the PPP won the most, but not a majority, of votes had two political parties in opposition, the APNU and the AFC. The failure or refusal of the PPP to negotiate a coalition or even a support arrangement with either or both of these parties was nothing but suicidal. The message of the electorate in 2011 was clear. It voted for a coalition. Later, the PPP/C government had an opportunity to save itself when the AFC tabled a no-confidence motion in 2011. The AFC offered to withdraw its motion if the Public Procurement Commission, which Parliament mandated ten years before, was appointed. The PPP refused to observe the constitution and was forced called elections.
You would have thought that once bitten, twice shy. But the lesson of 2011 was not learnt. Now facing a formidable coalition of APNU+AFC, the PPP refused to change its message or its course. They did the same thing but expected a different result. From the public pronouncements of Party leaders, it was clear that they misunderstood the reasons for the loss of 2011. They said that it was due to poor organization. They, therefore, worked at improving the party machinery. Without rectifying the fundamental problem, the absence of a motivating vision, the result was inevitable.
It is impossible to predict what the future holds. We don’t know what 2020, election year, holds for us. Every year the need grows for what Cheddi jagan called a ‘political solution.’ That cannot take place without constitutional reform, the objective of which will be to ensure that the main parties share in the government and end a half a century of political strife and instability based on ethnic suspicion, insecurity and discord. The controversies already surrounding the issues of oil show that a political solution in now more vitally necessary. Unless there can be agreement as to how the oil wealth is going to be managed, Guyana will end up like Trinidad and so many other oil countries which squandered their oil wealth and only those at the top benefitted. I want to leave you in no doubt that in twenty years, and even longer into the future, Guyana will be a vastly different and much richer country. But whether it will be a better, safer, more secure and comfortable country for Guyana’s long suffering working people and middle class, will depend on whether we can solve the political issue.
It was a privilege to listen to a world-class political analysis on Guyana presented by Ralph Ramkarran while he delivered a speech in Queens, New York on Sunday, October 8th. Because of technology, I was in the confines of my home in Maryland and benefited from a live feed. The only mistake I made, I did not record the address since my initial thoughts were “another politician, what new can he bring to the table”. But I was dead wrong; that speech by Mr Ramkarran was one for the record books.
Let me for the record make it absolutely clear: I would rate that speech as one of my top three speeches from a Guyanese and definitely in the top 10 in my entire life. It was some 45 minutes of stimulating facts that expertly catalogued Guyana’s political history and major events. I encourage Mr Ramkarran to put those words into a small book; it matters for the future of Guyana and I am willing to offer my service to help in its publication.
His speech was very fair to the Granger-led, PNC dominated coalition on many scores. He gave him credit for winning the presidency in the 2015 elections. Mr Ramkarran acknowledged, after 20 years of the PPP in power the “people wanted something new”. He clarified that it is normal in any political system for people to want something new periodically.
But where he floored me, was the legal precision he used to deconstruct the Chief Justice’s ruling on the Gecom chairmanship. In the final analysis, both he and the Chief Justice clearly concluded that the Granger team failed to accurately interpret the Constitution. For this total act of mediocre law, it is my opinion that Basil Williams should have been relieved of his position.
But Mr Ramkarran did give credit to President Granger for not interfering in the process that culminated in the Chief Justice’s ruling; as he said, when compared to the Burnham era, “very few judges were able to rule against the regime maybe except for Justice Vieira”. He also agreed with the Chief Justice that “fit and proper” does not have to be someone with judge-like credentials and therefore President Granger is wrong.
He brought clarity on many issues (political and legal) that no one in Guyana has come even close to explaining to the population over the last few years. It is unfortunate the audience was an exclusively diaspora crowd. Such a statement would be even more valuable for the Guyanese domiciled in the motherland, and I am not talking about a small group in Georgetown, but the masses. In that regard, I appeal to Mr Ramkarran to pre-record these thoughts for a Guyana TV programme because as I said at the inception of this letter, his statement was nothing but fantastic. Berbice, Essequibo and Linden need to hear this message.
But the most appropriate news of all was that after that speech I was convinced that the third force movement is dead for another generation because of the opportunistic actions of the AFC. Even Mr Ramkarran confirmed that the former PPP supporters who voted for the AFC have now left that party permanently. Are they back with the PPP?
I have no patience for mediocrity from politicians as my writing reveals. But what Mr Ramkarran did on Sunday was anything but mediocre; it was intellectually stimulating, very balanced and factually driven. I thank him also for bringing truth to reality in this maze of subterfuge and deception called political commentary from the much discredited Guyanese political class. He distinguished himself by demonstrating that Guyana still has men of calibre walking the corridors of power in Georgetown.
Mr Ralph Ramkarran who in a peculiar way embodies institutional memory in modern Guyanese politics, since he lived through it and was a principal actor, addressed a large gathering on Sunday night in the largely Indo-Guyanese village in Richmond Hill, Queens. Raised in a family where his father was a founder-member (and later a Minister) of the oldest political party – he himself served that party as a senior functionary and later as Speaker of the parliament.
Mr Ramkarran said we need a political solution to our largely ethno-political problem, one in which there are “no losers”. And, there must be agreement on “watchdog” organizations. Unless we have machinery on how to manage oil wealth, we will end up like other oil countries where the oil resource is more a curse than a blessing. He urged the diaspora to keep pressing for solutions.
Alliance politics: Hardly does any party secure 51% of the vote in the current era. He made reference to EU countries and cited the recent German elections ‒ no one gets 51% ‒ where Angela Merkel is currently putting together a coalition. In the real world it is about mastering the art of alliances. He then mentioned the ineptitude of leaders of the PPP in 2011 and 2015. In 2011 PPP fell below 51%, and had two choices (PNC and AFC) to form an alliance, but chose to do nothing. It was only a matter of time before someone moved a no confidence motion. Again in 2015, the PPP leader did nothing. As if to emphasize the PPP’s inept leadership, he mentioned the AFC’s offer to withdraw the no confidence motion if only the PPP would agree to establish the Procurement Commission designed to stamp out corruption. The PPP’s leader chose to do nothing.
Oil: He said oil wealth potentially will transform Guyana in ways we cannot imagine. The oil industry and the new economy will need lots of workers. Thousands of Brazilians and Chinese are moving to Guyana. The workers from the Caribbean countries are more likely to be drawn to Guyana. He said the ethnic composition of Guyana in the next 50-years will resemble nothing like it is today. (With both the PPP and PNC stuck in the mode of 1960s style ethnic politics, which one stands to gain in future scenarios?)
New vision: Bill Clinton’s presidency was successful (booming economy, eliminated budget deficit, reduced national debt), yet his party’s candidate, Gore, lost. Obama ‒ the same thing; very successful, but his party’s candidate, Hillary Clinton, lost. The modern electorates become “jaded”, and want something new; a new grand vision. And the PPP did not offer such a vision. In the case of Guyana, what could that vision have been? Ralph suggested constitutional reform. ‘Winner does not take all’ could have been the answer. This idea could have inspired hope in much of the African-Guyanese electorate and win the PPP a lot of crucial support.
Economy: Mr Ramkarran cited three large development projects: Amaila, the airport, the specialty hospital, which together would have pumped US$1.5 billion into the economy. Such spending, given a modest multiplier of 3, would have lifted the economy beyond all expectations. All the projects were scuttled by the Granger government, except a miniaturized version of the airport. Today, Mr Ramkarran said, with the potential of oil and tourism, we need a bigger airport than was originally planned. (C+G+I+(X-M) = GDP. If you take out the G from this pivotal macroeconomic equation, there is not much of an economy left. (And, given the lack of services and high crime rate, high unemployment, higher taxes (VAT), local investors will not invest). Of the higher VAT tax rate imposed, he said, this essentially sucks money out of the economy ‒ a real no-brainer. Also, money allocated in the budget was not spent, further placing the economy in a chokehold.
Future electoral prospects: AFC has lost its Indian support. And, he did not see any third party of significance, but anything could happen.
Restoration of democracy in 1992: He gave a very detailed breakdown of the movements that led to the restoration of democracy in 1992, and said Guyanese should be vigilant about not losing those essential reforms of our electoral systems (counting at place of poll, statements of poll, presence of party representatives, etc).
Lead-up to 1980 constitution: PNC folks began saying in the early 1970s that the so-called Independence constitution (Westminster model) was holding back progress. PPP folks in discussions with the ruling PNC said: ‘Tell us what parts needed to change, we can fix that with amendments’. The PNC evidently had other ideas, and eventually held the massively fraudulent 1978 referendum where according to best estimates only 15% of the voters showed up to cast a vote. The result was the 1980 constitution that expanded the powers of the ruling party and president, and provided specific advantages for the incumbent party.
Mr Ramkarran also answered a few questions, including the following:
Former (Cheddi Jagan) presidential guard Surujpaul asked whether the scuttling of Amaila was not justified in view of the part played by Fip Motilall. Mr Ramkarran said the issue was not Motilall’s lack of construction skills or lack of financing. The issue was that the government did not see the need for cheaper electricity, and how that level of spending would have boosted the economy. It was more a lack of vision and not understanding how macroeconomics works. He also cited a Norwegian company which rated the project highly.
Was Jagan a communist? Ralph answered in one word ‒ “yes”.
Does the PPP have a shot at the next elections? He said “yes”.
Could ExxonMobil influence elections? Ralph explained that EM is one of the largest multinationals in the world; they would not risk giving a few million dollars to PNC’s election campaign and then get exposed and have their reputation ruined.
At age 71, Mr Ramkarran looks mentally and physically fit. Many folks wanted to know whether he is willing to throw his proverbial hat in the ring for the presidency, should an opportunity arise. I heard him say he is engaged in public speaking events, doing political analyses in weekly columns and practising law, all of which, he says, he enjoys. I did not hear him say he has ruled out anything. He remains a highly respected national figure, and is considered by many to be the dean of a class of truly great Guyanese statesmen.
I write to augment the comments made in the two letters in SN (Oct 10) on Mr Ralph Ramkarran’s presentation in Queens on Oct 8 commemorating the 25th anniversary since the restoration of democratic elections in Guyana. The missives of Messrs Sase Singh and Mike Persaud accurately capture some of the more salient points made by the former Speaker of the National Assembly. Their analyses of the speech were spot on and supported with comments from the distinguished Senior Counsel.
It was indeed about the best speech I heard from a Guyanese on the politics of Guyana in the diaspora since the time of Dr Jagan, and as a journalist/cum political commentator with over 40 years experience, I have reported on hundreds of speeches for the mass media. This speech is rated in the same category as one I heard from then President Jagdeo about 17 years ago in Queens.
The speech of Mr Ramkarran, viewed as an elder statesman by the New York diaspora, was terrific. He stayed on point and supported his contentions with facts. He gave a deep and detailed description of electoral fraud and the role played by the diaspora and local forces within Guyana to expose the fraud and to champion the return of democratic governance. He paid glowing tributes to the work of the diaspora and the varied forces within Guyana (including religious and civic groups, political parties, GUARD, etc) that assisted in the struggle for the restoration of democracy in the homeland. He thanked all of them for their work. He did not bash anyone, and he was even kind to former President Jagdeo praising his handling of the economy although the two had a running battle within and outside the PPP over party leadership and perceived corruption.
Aside from the speech itself, something also needed to be said about the atmosphere of the hall: it was very quiet. People were attentive to Mr Ramkarran throughout the 45 minute speech and the 35 minute question and answer period. In the end, Ramkarran asked the diaspora to stay focused on Guyana to ensure democracy is never threatened again. He also urged racial unity and power sharing as a solution to our political conflict. He wanted the nation to come together and for there to be a multi-party government that represented the interest of all the ethnic groups.
There was much decorum in the hall. A lot of deference and respect was shown to the former PPP stalwart who was excommunicated from a party he helped to build. No negative response or any heckling was heard throughout his lengthy presentation. The only other time I heard Mr Ramkarran was at the funeral of Dr Jagan in March 1997 at Babu Jahan (John) after I flew from Manila, Philippines to pay respects to the fallen freedom fighter. That was one of the finest speeches paying tribute to the late Cheddi in Port Mourant. This speech in Richmond Hill was also exceptional in tone, tenor, delivery and content. It was a very serious speech replete with a compendium of facts. It was not laced with humour or witty comments, and it was not interrupted by applause or laughter. But it was not boring, unlike speeches made by other Guyanese politicians who come regularly to New York.
After the speech, Mr Ramkarran mingled and socialized with the large gathering and posed for pictures; he was very chatty and conversational. Before the speech, I asked the audience their views on Mr Ramkarran and after his presentation, I inquired about their opinions of it. What he said impressed everyone who gathered at the hall that Sunday afternoon and later that evening at another location for a reception. As many said, “the man spoke well”. They all echoed the sentiments of Mike Persaud and Sase Singh in their letters: it was one of the more striking speeches by a Guyanese in the diaspora. Many said that he should have run as President for the PPP. And almost everyone felt had he been the PPP presidential candidate in 2011 and/or 2015, the PPP would have retained the government with a large majority. There was disappointment when Ramkarran stated he was not interested in active PPP politics. He was urged to return to the PPP and throw his hat in the presidential ring come next election, and/or to form a political or civic organization. Ramkarran said he does not want to be attacked by his former party colleagues in publicly expressing an interest in politics or returning to his former party that he and his father helped build. He did not want forces in the PPP to feel uncomfortable with his appearance in New York or giving speeches within Guyana interpreting it as a return to active politics. He said he enjoys his non-political work and his writings, and that he has a lot of followers of his writing who offer him a lot of encouragement to write and analyse events. He did say that he is available to give talks if invited. He emphasized he is not actively seeking political office. But if approached, and if the public or the PPP feels he has a role to lay, he would give it consideration. “It is not something I would actively pursue”, he reiterated.
However, in response to follow up questions, he did not completely rule out a return to some kind of political engagement including working with the PPP if the party atmosphere was amenable.
With regard to how Mr Ramkarran is viewed by the New York diaspora, people expressed respect for the former politician, now elder statesman. They say he has demonstrated outstanding character and leadership throughout his public life. He is seen as non-racial and that he wishes to build a society free of corruption. As many commented, he would be the ideal candidate for President and many volunteered to set up an exploratory committee towards that goal.
The attendees were grateful to the organizers for bringing a fresh face from Guyana to New York rather than the same old figures that have lost appeal among the diaspora.
I always admire mr ramkarran to lead the pppc after mr jagdeo time was up. The pppc comrades should make right with him and he should compromise as well if they want to be the next govt. he worked hard for that party and must not go in vain. The diaspora should press the pppc
leaders and him for this compromise. The pppc has done a lot for that country and change the land scape in Guyana. Oil is not the salvation for that country alone agri business is always on top. I mean everyone must involve and include in the political process and decision making and job opportunities without race or political affiliations
So long later
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