Presumably, the People’s National Congress Reform (PNCR) would have much preferred that the verbal jousting between supporters of David Granger and Carl Greenidge, the two candidates for the leadership of the party, not enter the public domain. It couldn’t; in the final week or two before the party’s Congress, particularly, that jousting extended itself into the letters to editor columns of sections of the media, sending signals of a disturbing loss of leadership control.
There was something almost surreal about a vigorous intra-party leadership battle in a political culture where, hitherto, it has not been the custom to challenge for leadership. This time around PNCR members and supporters were not simply parading the credentials of their chosen candidates, they were exposing what they perceived to be the weaknesses of the other contestant.
The rivalry that marked the first real leadership contest in the history of the PNCR reflects some of the challenges associated with attempts to create a more democratic intra-party environment as part of our political culture. Certainly, it was not an issue that Burnham had to contend with and in that context there are those who might even argue that – in the cases of both the PNCR and the PPP/C, maximum leadership had its advantages.
Neither Granger nor Greenidge were perceived as maximum leaders; in fact, their rival camps had emerged during the contest for the PNCR’s presidential candidature and there are those in the party who say that while the division may have been suppressed by subsequent national political events, it has, nonetheless, endured.
If indeed differences have persisted over the period then the PNCR is certainly guilty of not doing enough to have the factions mend fences and that is hardly to its credit. The differences are worrying for a few important reasons. With the race for the leadership of the party now over one would imagine that the PNCR’s immediate priority would be to try to rebuild what Forbes Burnham had christened ‘the vanguard party,’ but which has long been a shadow of its former self. The decline in the PNCR’s membership may have preceded its loss of political office; on the other hand that decline certainly accelerated after December 1992.
Since then the PNCR may have polled sufficient votes at successive general elections to comfortably hold on to its position as the party with the second largest following in Guyana, though that tells us little about the size of its actual membership. One might even venture to say that the PNCR has done demonstrably little over the two decades or so to mobilize and galvanize its members and to expand its membership base. Indeed, If anything, members and supporters of the party appear to have been among its strongest critics over the past two decades or so.
The second reason why intra-party stability is important to the PNCR – particularly at this time – has to do with its current leadership of the APNU coalition and its leadership of the majority opposition in the National Assembly. Once the fissures inside the PNCR – particularly at the leadership level – begin to manifest themselves publicly, it is not inconceivable that differences and divisions could manifest themselves within APNU; more than that the effectiveness of the parliamentary opposition could be compromised.
The problem with what one might call the era of openness inside the PNCR is that it has unleashed different shades of opinion both in relation to how the party should be run internally as well as the role that it should play in the national political process. There are, for instance, clear and distinct differences between those who feel the party‘s immediate political focus should be on the realization of shared governance and others who believe that the PPP/C’s loss of its parliamentary majority at the 2011 general elections may be a precursor to its loss of power.
From all that we have seen and learnt, however, there are schisms inside the PNCR and whether or not either Mr Granger or his leadership team – whomsoever may comprise that team – are as yet sufficiently grounded to tackle and remove those schisms, is unclear. Another point that should be made in this context is that we are yet to see the emergence of a post-election PNCR leadership team assigned to design and execute an agenda for the political period ahead. One thing that Mr Granger should be aware of is that as party Leader it is his responsibility to articulate the course ahead for the party’s members and supporters and to give leadership as that course unfolds in the period ahead. Not only will he be unable to accomplish this on his own, but pulling together a strong leadership team out of what now appears to be a party affected by differences will be the acid test of whether or not the recently concluded Congress made the right choice.