‘Arrogance and complacency cost the PPP last year’s elections,’ screamed the headline in Stabroek News of January 1, reporting on the year-end press conference of former President Bharrat Jagdeo, now Leader of the Opposition. He is reported to have said that ‘there was a severe disconnect between the party and its supporters on the ground’ resulting in APNU and AFC ‘gaining footholds among PPP supporters.’ He attributed this to the PPP’s complacency and arrogance and vowed to work hard to strengthen the party by going ‘house to house to people right across this country and rebuilding a connection between them and the party.’ Mr. Jagdeo spoke about the youth being enticed by the coalition because they lacked knowledge of the PNC’s past and the need for the party to work ‘vigorously to incubate a new generation of youthful leaders.’
The single-minded support by Mr. Jagdeo of Mr. Donald Ramotar as the presidential candidate in 2011 was one of the worst displays of contempt and political arrogance in Guyana’s political history. The compelling obsession to continue to exercise governmental authority and control was the sole motivating factor. The PPP leadership, in thrall to Mr. Jagdeo, mistakenly felt that its supporters would accept anything thrown at them.
It is not that the PPP leadership did not know, or could not have known, what were the possible consequences of its decision. During 2010 I was in New Amsterdam to attend to a matter in the New Amsterdam High Court. I met with Messrs. Zulfikar Mustapha, then Regional Chairman and Faizal Jaffarally, an adviser, the two main PPP operatives in Berbice, at my request. They instead hosted me at State House. The purpose was to solicit the support of these two influential local leaders in the PPP’s heartland of Berbice, for my own campaign for the nomination. They both told me that they would support me if there was a secret ballot. They further told me that if Mr. Ramotar, who had already been in semi-official campaign mode, is chosen, they would have great difficulty in mobilizing PPP supporters to turn out to vote.
The leadership was unaware of this dire possibility because the arrogance at the top was so overpowering that Messrs. Mustapha and Jaffarally, and many others of the same view, dared not express their fears. Just as Mustapha and Jaffarally predicted, thousands of Berbicians and others stayed home and the PPP lost its majority in 2011 and in the elections in 2015.
The entire problem of arrogance arose because of the leadership’s belief that it knew what was best, failed to advance and develop party democracy, abused and threatened all those who raised questions, and felt that the PPP would rule forever. The party metamorphosed into an instrument for accumulation, which became progressively worse. Disgusted and silenced, party stalwarts, young and old, dropped out. Arrogance led to the belief that these developments would not be noticed by supporters or that junior leaders would not mimic the behaviour of senior leaders. To repair the PPP, the reforms have to start at the top.
Mr. Jagdeo has repeatedly mentioned the need to motivate young people and to encourage young leaders in the PPP. But what about Frank Anthony, Anil Nandlall, Irfan Ally, Priya Manickchand, Dharamkumar Seeraj, Pauline Sukhai, Neil Kumar and rising ones such as Charles Ramson (Jr), Nigel Dharamlall, Colin Croal, and others? Is it that Mr. Jagdeo doesn’t trust them because some of these ‘young’ leaders and a few ‘old’ ones disapproved his election as Leader of the Opposition?
Young people are being wildly motivated by politicians like Jeremy Corbyn, 66, of the UK and Bernie Sanders, 74, of the US, who Mr. Jagdeo would refer to as ‘very old’ (as he did to President Granger) or ‘fossils.’ These leaders are inspiring young people by progressive policies, democratic behavior and humility.
We have to wait and see whether blood will flow at and after the PPP Congress later this year and if the unwanted ‘young’ and ‘old’ leaders will be made to move on. Both Mr. Ramotar and Mr. Rohee are over 65 and ‘old’ in Mr. Jagdeo’s eyes. The problem for Mr. Jagdeo is that these same ‘old’ leaders have helped him to influence the post-Congress vote for the male dominated Executive Committee in recent years, so that ‘undesirable elements’ like the popular Hydar Ally and Indra Chandarpal or the ambitious, but hitherto out of favour, Anil Nandlall, do not sneak in.
Publicly contradicted by Mr. Jagdeo, Mr. Rohee, now chief cook and bottle washer, must be struggling with humiliation. It is not known if Mr. Donald Ramotar, will be invited this time around, and would be still willing to toe the Jagdeo line. He is struggling hard to recover from the shame of losing the elections and is still bitter from being unceremoniously dumped by his mentor, Mr. Jagdeo, in the choice of Leader of the Opposition.
Cheddi and Janet Jagan bequeathed a thriving, humming and democratic party, in office. Mr. Jagdeo blames everyone for its loss, except himself and his choice of presidential candidate, because he is personally, narcissistically, incapable of contrition or self-examination, which would be inconsistent with his grandiose self-image.