Last Monday General Secretary of the PPP, Mr. Clement Rohee, reacting at his press conference to questions about that morning’s SN’s headline “PPP executives jockeying for top position – Jagdeo, others seeking to consolidate support before crucial congress,” deemed the media as “stray dogs, going by the smell of things and rummaging the PPP neighbourhood for new and old juicy inaccuracies and speculations.” The article in SN and the questions from the media obviously touched a raw nerve.
It would be unprecedented for a PPP Congress to be postponed except if an issue of national importance gets in the way. For example, Congress was not held in 2011 because of elections year, nor in 2012 because the PPP’s minority government was under siege. There might have been other cases in the past but there have been no postponements of Congress for purely internal reasons.
There is no power struggle going on in relation to the choice of presidential candidate for 2020. Jockeying and positioning are taking place quietly but are not generating any overt controversies. The main contender will be Bharrat Jagdeo, if the appeal in the two-term limit case, in which Chief Justice Chang ruled the two-term limit to be unconstitutional, is dismissed. If not, Irfan Ali, Anil Nandlall and Frank Anthony, appear to be the group from among whom a candidate will emerge.
Jagdeo’s favoured person is said to be Irfan Ali, a devoted and noisy loyalist. Anil Nandlall, a ponderous newspaper campaigner, has Ramotar’s support but the latter’s influence has waned considerably. Frank Anthony, diffident and long disfavoured and held back by Jagdeo, remains the person most favoured among the bulk of the leadership and rank and file, except those mentioned above. He usually obtains among the highest votes in elections at Congress. The outcome is anyone’s guess but if it is not Jagdeo, he will once again use his formidable skills to again promote someone he believes he can control. With the Ramotar disaster, doubt exists as to whether he will succeed this time around.
The major factor would be the extent of Jagdeo’s dominance of the PPP and its leadership. It can still be overpowering but is already on the decline. With some responsibility being attributed to him for losing the elections, which he tries to deflect by blaming Party members, the proposal for his election as Leader of the Opposition attracted several negative votes (the fact that voting was successfully insisted upon is itself a weakening of his position because as president, he did not countenance voting and relied on a consensus which he decreed as the last speaker on every issue). Also Indra Chandrapal and Anil Nandlall were promoted in 2015 to the Party Executive to fill vacancies. Jagdeo had been hostile to both of them and they were not elected in 2013.
The real reason for a possible postponement of the Congress arises out of the crumbling of the core leadership and possible challenges that have since arisen. That leadership was established immediately after the 2008 Congress and comprised Jagdeo, Luncheon, Ramotar, Rohee and Teixiera. Its main objective, apart from promoting the Ramotar presidential candidacy, was to ensure Jagdeo’s control over the Party.
Electoral defeat in 2011, then 2015, has shattered the unity and existence of the core leadership. No longer suppressed within a collective that has to pay obeisance to Jagdeo, and elected as General Secretary, the door has been opened for Rohee’s emergence as a contender. He has substantial precedent to back him up. Of the four past PPP presidents, three were general secretaries, namely, Cheddi Jagan, Janet Jagan and Donald Ramotar the first and last, like Rohee, being formal Party leaders as holders of the most senior position in the constitution. The fourth, Bharrat Jagdeo, was nominated by former general secretary, Janet Jagan.
To curb Rohee’s growing public profile as the Party’s chief spokesperson, head of the organization, presidential contender and competitor for stature, Jagdeo would have to engineer his removal as general secretary immediately after Congress (the general secretary is elected at the first meeting after Congress by the newly elected central committee). He may well feel that he no longer has the clout to accomplish this. Thus, agreeing to a Congress means having Rohee as General Secretary for another three years. A postponement for a year may allow intrigue and manipulation, standard operating procedures in the PPP leadership, to mature and lead to his ouster from the post.
Rohee as General Secretary would be responsible for the physical organization of any Congress and would influence many important outcomes. In addition, he writes and delivers the keynote speech, which sets out policy. It is debated by delegates in workshops and fulsomely pronounced upon at a plenum. Therefore, a Congress will further elevate Rohee’s stature among the Party and public, if he can suppress his notorious lack of interpersonal skills. Under all of these circumstances, as to Rohee’s shining limelight from the Congress, Bharrat Jagdeo receives only a dull glow. Notwithstanding, Clement Rohee can never be certain that his position will remain intact after the Congress. Therefore, for different reasons, the two most powerful persons in the PPP would not see any benefits to them from a Congress at this time.