A public fight seems to be brewing between the major contenders for the PPP’s presidential candidacy with the focus being on how the party will decide who carries its standard into the 2011 general elections.
The PPP is known for the inscrutability of its internal affairs but in recent days this has been tested with the Speaker of the House Ralph Ramkarran’s advertisement in this newspaper on Wednesday formally announcing his interest in being the candidate.
In that ad Ramkarran called for the candidate to be decided on by way of secret ballot if there is more than one nominee as is usually done with the party’s important decisions. However, General Secretary Donald Ramotar at a news conference the same day said this was still to be decided since secret balloting had never been done before on the candidacy voting.
“All the Presidential candidates and Prime Ministerial candidates that we’ve had before, we never had a secret ballot for that so I would not be able to comment on that. The meetings themselves will decide on these issues,” he said.
But Ramkarran rejoined with a letter published in this newspaper yesterday dismissing Ramotar’s stance on the issue.
“The glaring problem with this is that no meeting can decide for anyone whether or not that person’s right to a secret ballot should be abridged. It is the natural, God-given, right of all human beings to exercise their democratic choice in conditions of secrecy and confidentiality. In all cases where open voting takes place, a single request for a secret ballot must be honoured. This is enshrined in the rules of many organisations. Where not enshrined, this principle is honoured, as it must be,” he declared.
Referring to the last three candidates for the presidency – the Jagans and Bharrat Jagdeo – Ramkarran pointed out that they were the only nominees in each case and were therefore approved by acclamation. “On the other hand, in all cases where elections in the PPP are contested, the voting is conducted by secret ballot. For example, since 1950, elections at Congress in the earlier period for the General Council, officers and the executive, and in later years for the Central Committee, have always been conducted by secret ballot. There was never a vote taken as to whether these elections should be conducted by open voting,” the Speaker stated.
Efforts to get a comment from Ramotar yesterday on this point by Ramkarran were unsuccessful. The General Secretary had also seemed nonplussed by Ramkarran’s move to the media to announce his interest. “I’m surprised that he would do that … I don’t think that’s how the PPP operates; we haven’t been operating like that. This would be a first I believe,” Ramotar said at a news briefing on Wednesday.
The process to select the candidate has also engaged the attention of Moses Nagamootoo who since March had told Stabroek News that he was in favour of the selection of the presidential candidate involving all of the party’s membership. Stating that the current procedure is outdated, he called for a system to be implemented where potential candidates could declare their interest and their availability and submit data that could be circulated to the party members. While declaring his interest in the post, Nagamootoo said he would support another candidate, once the selection was done in an open and democratic manner.
But in September the party officially announced that it would be sticking to its normal procedures to arrive at the candidate. The PPP explained that the procedure allows for the nomination/expression of interest by interested individuals, deliberations at the level of the Executive Committee, and subsequent approval by the Central Committee. “The approved candidate will then be announced to the membership through regional conferences,” the party added, while pointing out that the process was used in the selection of the Jagans and Jagdeo to contest the general elections.
Further, the PPP noted that the selection document outlines a code of conduct which potential presidential candidates and their supporters must adhere to before and after the selection of the agreed presidential candidate.
Nagamootoo was quick to respond saying that the retention of the system showed that the members no longer had any say. He added that he was unaware of any “selection document.” He said that he was also “unaware that the ‘party’ took the decision” to select the presidential candidate by a small group. “Our party members ought to be just as surprised as I am that they no longer count,” he said.
Also that month, Nagamootoo, the most outspoken of the presidential hopefuls, lashed out at what he termed the “state sponsorship” of Ramotar for the party’s presidential nomination, owing to his inclusion on cabinet outreaches and on overseas visits by President Bharrat Jagdeo. Nagamootoo said he was opposed to a single candidate being recommended by the party leadership and he contended that Ramotar’s inclusion was disadvantageous to other candidates. “This is deliberately selective and unfair” and could derail the selection process, he stated while adding that “if this continues, I will withdraw from the process.”
Since then Ramotar has also been part of the president’s delegation to this month’s Mercosur summit in Brazil but there has been no word from Nagamootoo on whether he would be making good on his statement. The aspirants to the post who have publicly indicated their interest to date are Ramotar, Ramkarran, Home Affairs Minister Clement Rohee and Nagamootoo. Both Ramkarran and Rohee have since indicated their interest in writing to the General Secretary.
But the fissures are not restricted to the players within the party with one of the biggest voting blocks for the PPP, sugar workers, disgruntled in a year where relations between workers’ union GAWU and the GuySuCo worsened. PPP parliamentarian and GAWU president Komal Chand has steadfastly sided with the workers and has drawn the ire of the party leadership including Jagdeo.
The clearest tremor has originated from former minister and presidential advisor Navin Chandarpal, the current principal of GAWU’s Labour College in a letter which appeared in yesterday’s edition of the Stabroek News. The letter was a response to another which appeared in the Guyana Chronicle under the hand of a Ganesh Singh. According to Chandarpal, Singh made “a number of malicious accusations about my role in GAWU and the struggle of the sugar workers.” Chandarpal stated that one of the things Singh was peddling was that he (Chandarpal) was responsible for a change in GAWU’s direction and the behaviour of workers. “To feel that I can cause a change in GAWU’s approach is to fail to understand how GAWU works. GAWU is not a one-man show. But maybe ‘Ganesh Singh’ assumes that a one-man show is a norm because they have grown accustomed to it. GAWU is a democratic union,” he wrote in a not too veiled reference to the perceived micromanagement of President Jagdeo. Further, he charged Ganesh with invoking a political agenda by saying the union, under direction, was seeking to support presidential ambitions.
According to Chandarpal, this could not be a reference to him since he has never indicated any such interest even though many have suggested that he so do. “What I know for certain is that they are concerned about the strong influence that the vote of sugar workers and those close to them can have on the outcome of the final elections. They know that sugar workers will be looking towards a candidate who is not hostile to GAWU and who has demonstrated support for the struggle of sugar workers.
The only way that any hopeful with presidential ambitions can become acceptable to sugar workers is to stand up unequivocally for the workers and dissociate themselves from the assault on workers carried out by GuySuCo. It’s not me that they should be worried about. It’s the advanced political knowledge of the majority of sugar workers that they have to be fearful of,” Chandarpal declared.
Ramotar is a member of GuySuCo’s Board of Directors.
Nagamootoo has also sided with the workers and spoken out on their behalf, a move the party dubbed as grandstanding and for which he was censured. He came out in support of GAWU following GuySuCo’s threat to derecognise the union last week with a scathing statement against the administration and the corporation. “I am shocked that the Government could condone this attack on GAWU and the sugar workers; and that leaders of my party, the People’s Progressive Party (PPP), would expect to be in silent conspiracy with this outrage against the vanguard of the working class movement in Guyana.
I can no longer remain silent. This is a grave national matter, and one of conscience. I dissociate myself from what seems to be a state-party alliance in sledge-hammering GAWU, judging from the leading role of Dr. N.K. Gopaul, Permanent Secretary in the Office of the President and former acting Head of the Presidential Secretariat, as Chairman of GuySuCo, and Mr. Donald Ramotar, General Secretary of the People’s Progressive Party (PPP), who is a prominent member of the Board,” he wrote.
However, this only earned the ire of the party leadership with Ramotar on Wednesday announcing that Nagamootoo was told of the party’s displeasure at a meeting. Ramotar said Nagamootoo’s remarks were discussed in the presidential aspirant‘s presence at a meeting on Tuesday and he was issued a verbal warning since he had been present at a meeting where the derecognition issue was discussed the day before he made his public statement.
“He was present and he heard the views of the Central Committee in sympathy with the sugar workers and he heard the president’s statement right here in this room expressing very explicitly that that will not happen, the de-recognition of the union, not under his watch according to him. But I extend that to not under a PPP or a PPP/Civic government.
And yet he went out there kind of grandstanding which people thought was in very, very bad taste. I believe his statement was reckless and intemperate in his own words,” Ramotar said.