Will it be the General Secretary or the Speaker of the House? After all the expert opinion, inside information, and outside betting, the speculation narrows to this. With this in mind, the intent here is to opine on which one is better equipped for the challenge at hand, and offers the potential for more. This is an appraisal only of the strengths and shortcomings of the two main men, and how they measure up against one another.
The GS is a perfectly nice chap. He is a proven party strongman well grounded in trusted dogmas from cathedrals of learning in old Warsaw Pact lands; and an immovable loyalist who is immersed in the ways of his party’s thinking – past, present, and future.
Most importantly, he can be counted upon to hold the line, not backslide through compromise, or get adventurous through unwise dalliances. In sum, he is first and foremost a party man, always a party man – and this is the greatest comfort.
If all of this is true, why a problem with coronation? This man who has worked tirelessly for all who went before him? Why is there discussion – and speculation – involving a second candidate? While care is taken to be tactful, some might yet interpret what follows as being a trifle harsh.
Let it be faced: there are serious limitations when leadership at a national level and the GS are commingled. The skill sets, attributes, and competencies that make for a solid GS, do not transfer well to the much vaster, less docile, more complex, and infinitely more rarified world of national stewardship, and international recognition and acceptance. In terms of the latter, it is recognition and acceptance as peer and statesman. As the believed ascendancy of the GS appears almost foregone, it is helpful to remember one Nikita Khrushchev.
He was a powerhouse within party circles in the Kremlin, but came across very poorly in international forays. This was true whether it involved the Kitchen Debate with Nixon; the ‘shoe banging’ incident at the UN, or the near apocalypse of the Cuban Missile Crisis. This man and his conduct – ranging from the hilarious to the potentially disastrous – provide a precedent to what is meant by “serious limitations” on the part of the local GS.
It is that the élan, essential worldview, and indefinable graces so inseparable from the practice of statecraft are missing and should rule out serious consideration for the position of national leader. Clearly, the persona and carriage of the GS, as constantly evidenced through the hedges, bluster, and ‘hail fellow well met’ behaviour, are ideally suited for the role currently occupied, but woefully out of place for the responsibilities enshrined in national leadership. While the man is assuredly a skilled political operator, can he stare down Hugo? Or hold his own at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue? To be fair, he is more in the mould of a Zhou Enlai: a feared and faithful apparatchik, an unmoving ideologue, and a solid backroom presence. Anything envisioned beyond this, and the Peter Principle takes over, through elevation above competencies. This is a view heard from many including, surprisingly, stalwart PPP people.
For his part, the Speaker of the House presents a contrasting picture: sometimes complicating, sometimes compelling; and oftentimes indecipherable. He has the presence, and mental sparkle, to make people pause. But – and there are many buts – there is the distance of the loner and political aristocrat, which can be misunderstood and tragic flaws. There is a believed breadth of vision to appreciate what is required at a national level, the scope of understanding to grasp what is essentially wrong and unworkable.
Most importantly, there are perceived flickers of willingness to explore slender, invisible nuances in pursuit of a different destiny. In a land overpopulated with the unchanging, he represents the remotest of probabilities in the form of a difference maker. But with all of this comes a major fear of the sin of individualism, and all the unknowns that it encompasses. It could be fatal.
Further, he lacks the traction, at times, of his own convictions (at least openly), and of a dedicated group of influential insiders who think beyond party lines. Even further, he has demonstrated a tendency to retreat from the necessary marketing and selling of self, which is viewed as distasteful.
Nonetheless, there is little doubt that the Speaker as leader would be able to slice and dice, peel the onion layer by flimsy layer, understand deep subtleties and implications, and debate and negotiate with contemporaries. He could be expected to hold his own. But there is considerable doubt as to whether he is ready to gird the loins and tighten the stomach for the dirtiness and savagery of a good back-alley fight; and if he is resilient enough to weather repeated clinches by getting down and demonstrating the requisite pugnacity of spirit.
This, then, is an outsider’s assessment of the dilemma before the party’s decision-making body. It is where one man comes over as family friend, the other austere; one a man on the inside, the other perplexing as to his intentions. The essential question is, given the naked emotional and tribal underpinnings of political deliberation in Guyana, which man can be more trusted to put party interests before all else, all the time? Where the heart traditionally rules the head, this weighs heavily against the Speaker, unless he can persuade borderline contenders to barter their blocs to him. But is anyone willing to exchange? If yes, what is the cost to the Speaker? Still, if he can pull off such a coup against the odds, it could usher in possibilities…
In the meantime, the jury is still out; this one comes with predispositions, known agendas, and perpetuation of the status quo paramount before all other considerations. Clearly, this can only accrue to the benefit of the GS, and to the nation’s chagrin. The decision will tell whether it is a vote for continuing of the deplorable. Or if it represents, the pathway to perhaps something slightly different.