Khemraj Ramjattan was yesterday ratified as the Presidential Candidate for the Alliance For Change (AFC) with co-founder Sheila Holder selected as the Prime Ministerial candidate after Leader, Raphael Trotman declined the nomination citing health and personal reasons.
Trotman’s decision and Holder’s selection were unexpected twists as the
five-year-old political party became the first to officially select its candidates for the constitutionally-due national elections next year. The AFC held a Special National Conven-tion at the Ocean View Convention Centre yesterday to select candidates and Trotman shocked representatives when he declined his nomination.
Sources, who were at the convention told Stabroek News that Trotman was emotional as he declined the nomination, telling the delegates that he has “a serious health issue” as well as citing personal issues. “The whole room was in an uproar when they heard that decision”, one source said. “Everybody was shocked”, another delegate said. Delegates chanted “Ramjattan/Trotman” as they attempted to get him to change his mind. Trotman remains party leader.
Meanwhile, Holder’s nomination is seen as significant given that no woman, apart from the late former President Janet Jagan, has ever been selected to be the Prime Ministerial candidate for a significant political party locally. Executive member, Cathy Hughes was also nominated for the position but she declined.
“I am honoured to be selected”, Holder said when reached by Stabroek News last night. “If we think we were working hard before, the hard work starts from now”. Holder said that she was impressed with the response from the delegates and the deliberations yesterday were of the highest quality. She said that the commitment displayed by delegates signalled that the AFC has matured and is ready to take government. Delegates pledged to put the party into government and Holder emphasized that the task ahead requires a collaborative effort. “We are merely the candidates but we expect to build a team of the bright minds that we saw at the conference today”, said Holder. She stressed that it has to be a team effort and they must focus on the task ahead.
Holder disclosed that Trotman at the AFC’s Executive meeting last Friday had told the committee that he would decline the nomination. That meeting had also rejected the idea of deferring the selection of the Prime Ministerial candidate. Holder confirmed that she has indicated to Trotman and the convention that should Trotman’s personal circumstances change; she would be willing to provide the opportunity for him to be the Prime Ministerial candidate. “It’s an offer that I have put out”, she said.
In the afternoon, following voting, Ramjattan’s position was confirmed with him receiving 200 votes to one for Michael Carrington. There was no vote on the Prime Ministerial candidate as after Trotman and Hughes declined, there were no other nominees.
Earlier in the day, with hugs and handshakes and to cheers from the convention, Ramjattan received the endorsement of Trotman. “Today I pass the baton of opportunity to be the candidate for President of Guyana to my brother, Khemraj Ramjattan”, Trotman said. “You have my support and I promise you that I will be there for you as a friend and a confidante”, he added.
Ramjattan, in addressing the opening, said that despite facing trials and tribulations, the AFC – which has five seats in Parliament – is still here “and will remain so, growing from strength to strength to become number one on the political landscape”.
He rejected an alliance with the governing PPP and main opposition PNCR. He said that recently the party had to make major decisions on important issues, with major ones being the party’s rotation principle and alliances with other political and civic forces.
He said that the rotation principle remains relevant given the historical reality of racial polarization in the population especially at election time. “It is an attractive, appealing option to the population and to those in the Diaspora. Its maintenance will give the AFC credibility with the Guyanese population, and result in the gaining of support of the various ethnic groups, especially the two more populous ethnic groups, and to win the election in Guyana”, he said.
He noted that the preservation of this principle was one of the reasons behind the desire of a majority to stay separate from the PPP and PNC as political entities. “If we give that distinctiveness up we are dead on arrival”, he said. According to Ramjattan, an association with any one of the two will destroy the party in the eyes of their constituency and potential in winning especially votes in the Indo-Guyanese community. He also expressed a view that a coalition with the PNC and AFC will not guarantee victory for such a combined Opposition but would guarantee the demise of the AFC. Ramjattan said that the governance issue is fundamental in the new politics for this country and the PPP is horrible on this score and this is why the AFC must be consistent and state unequivocally that the party is not going to enter any pre-election coalition with the PPP or with the PNC.
However, he said, he does not want the AFC to be a party which will close doors to practical ideas and constructs. He emphasized that there are certain principles that must not be negotiated away.
Ramjattan noted that mistakes will be made and members “must be prepared to withstand taunts, suck-teeth, victimization even; all with the purpose and intention from those who want to discredit this new boy on the block”.
Earlier, he had said that the AFC must be respectful to its critics. “Their criticisms must be utilized to measure what is the public perception of our Party. We must never counter-slug as is the knee-jerk politics of the PPP/C and PNC/R. Rather we must listen to the voices of the well-intentioned whether they flow from a member’s personal advertisement in the newspaper, a biting commentary, or even controversial statements from leaders and supporters with a different view on certain issues. These are all essential messages which due respect must be paid to in this democratic party, all of which will be properly reflected upon and given due consideration after due deliberation. We must live and practice that new liberal political culture we want for our Guyana and which we preach about. Otherwise, we will sooner be lumped and dumped with all of those politicians we want to distinguish ourselves from”, he said.
Meantime, Ramjattan labelled as “sad”, the situation in the national political and economic spheres. “Bad governance and corruption permeates in almost every quarter and all institutions of our land”, he said citing studies, including Transparency International’s report on Guyana. “Young people still dream of leaving these shores for greener pastures”, he added.
Recalling how he was laughed at when he spoke about the “control-freakism” of the PPP, Ramjattan said that he was vindicated. “Control, more control, absolute control is all it wants”, he said citing issues in Parliament, state radio and television, the University of Guyana, the court system and elsewhere.
Adverting to issues such as government officials selling at huge sums, land they got at subsidized prices, then buying other lands, Ramjattan said that these issues have resulted in inequality. “And the result of inequality is distrust and mistrust and a general disequilibrium. Neighbours cease to check on neighbours, there is no cooperative spirit and the result is the madness we see all around us today – violence, domestic violence, despair, drunkenness, and so many other terrible societal vices. As a result, too, there is an impoverishment that traverses the racial divide. Every ethnic community has felt the impact of this inequality”, he said.
According to Ramjattan, the administration can do a whole lot more to stop the widening of the inequality gap but does not have the political will. One way the inequality can be reduced is by the reduction of the Value Added Tax, he said, pledging that the AFC will reduce this to 12% when it gets into government. He said that VAT together with Excise Tax grew by 90% from 2007, amounting to a surplus of $40B.
Ramjattan said that the AFC has a vision for a better society. He referred to its comprehensive blueprint of policies for economic and social transformation within one generation. “We are confident we can transform Guyana into a first-world country in terms of Human Development Index (HDI) ranking in one generation. The task will not be an easy one, but we are confident our policies can achieve this holistic development”, he said. He pledged economic reforms but also said that there must be concomitant political reforms.
Holder and Trotman had also addressed the convention with Holder speaking about campaign reform and ensuring that political parties only access “clean money”. Trotman, among other things, spoke on the reform of the justice system.
Five AFC members, Dr. Shamir Ally, Denise Walcott, Hilton Jagmohan, Dr. Veersammy Ramayah and Walter Melville were presented with Fifth Anniversary Special Awards. Representatives of the Diaspora and members of the diplomatic corps were also present.