Ending months of speculation, incumbent Robert Corbin yesterday officially announced his decision to contest to retain the post of leader of the main opposition PNCR, saying his primary motivation is the need to have stable leadership to make the party “fit for purpose.”
Flanked by supporters including PNCR vice-chairs Basil Williams and Volda Lawrence, Corbin told a news briefing that he accepted the nomination of the 160-odd groups which nominated him and emphasised that he would be part of a team concerned about the future of the party, and Guyana. “I am part of a team that recognises that the enemy is not within but is the present administration that has been involved in several violations of our constitution and has indeed put Guyana in a parlous state at this moment,” he explained. He said too that in order for the party to confront the current administration, it needed to build unity and strength. He acknowledged that there was a mammoth task ahead of the party in terms of conflict resolution, building harmony and ensuring that it was all inclusive to confront challenges that lie ahead.
In addition to Williams and Lawrence, MPs George Norton, Amna Ally, Dave Danny and members Beni Rayman and Lurlene Nestor were among supporters present as Corbin made the announcement.
Corbin explained that his announcement was occasioned by misinformation being peddled about the party’s 16th Biennial Congress. He noted that he stayed away from campaigning in the past or even formally announcing his candidacy because he did not want to divert attention from the important issues engaging the PNCR. He was referring to the explosive allegation emanating from the US trial of Robert Simels, the former attorney of drug kingpin Roger Khan. Corbin said he did not want to distract attention from the issue, adding that it has put the opposition in a very responsible position to deal with the challenges that face Guyana. The PNCR along with other opposition parties has since staged protest action asking for an international probe into the allegations, which link government to Khan’s criminal enterprise.
However, Corbin revealed yesterday that several party supporters have been receiving misleading information about the Congress, among them claims of a postponement and that he would not be running for office. He noted that another vicious rumour was that anyone was invited to the Congress, including old members not in financial standing. Those persons, he explained, felt that the calls were coming from Congress Place. As a result, Corbin thought it necessary as leader to ensure that he brought a halt to any public speculation. He further urged that party supporters and well wishers disregard “mischievous and wicked attempts” to undermine its interest at this time.
He stated that only delegates and observers who were invited by groups and those persons with special invitations would be allowed to enter Congress Place. Limited capacity constrained the party from having a large invitation list, he said, urging that persons disregard rumours and attempts to confuse the situation. Asked later to comment on the elements which have been spreading rumours, Corbin noted that some were known and unknown. He said the party knew the identities of some of the callers and that they clearly had an objective not consistent with promoting a harmonious congress but he would not comment further.
Williams had also been nominated for leader, as have former party Chairman Winston Murray, Dr Richard Van West-Charles, Dr Aubrey Armstrong and Aubrey Norton. Until Corbin’s announcement, only Murray and Van West-Charles had confirmed their candidacy.
Corbin said yesterday he was not at all concerned by the others contesting the post, saying it demonstrates that the party is a democratic, with members who are free to exercise their choice. “What is of concern to me is that the PNCR emerges a winner. For me it’s not the individual winners or those clamouring for important positions, what is important is that at the end of this process the PNCR as a party, wins and can give the kind of leadership necessary for a better Guyana,” he emphasised.
Meanwhile, when questioned on his level of confidence in the wake of several reservations raised by party members about his leadership, Corbin contended that this was the very reason for the congress. He pointed out that what has transpired in the past weeks is evidence of the democracy alive in the PNCR. “People have been free to say all sorts of things and some of them have their own agenda but I have to act in accordance with a mandate and whoever wants to judge what I have done in stewardship, I challenge them to read my congress speeches over the years,” he declared, while insisting that ultimately the membership of the party would decide. “I will subject myself to the judgement of the members of the PNCR at the upcoming Congress.”
When asked to rate his confidence in being able to retain the leadership, Corbin said, “In my entire political career there are two factors that guide me; the grace of God and the will of the people.” He demurred on whether he would lead the party to the next general elections if he was successful at the Congress, noting that the general elections were too far up the road to consider at the moment. He said the issue would be dealt with in his opening speech at the congress but added that it is his view that it was not automatic that the leader of a party be the presidential candidate.
Meanwhile, Corbin did not address claims of irregularities in the party’s membership register raised by the Van West-Charles campaign, directing questions on the issue to an official party press conference to be held today. He stated however that the party has taken into account its experiences in 2007 and has since put several safeguards and measures in place to ensure transparency and accountability. He did, however, explain that some measures were put in place to provide the opportunity for people to make claims and objections and that the process provided for them to be properly investigated.