The time has come for the PPP to replace democratic centralism with an open primary

Dear Editor,
The system in place over the last 60 years to elect a presidential candidate is bankrupt. It is time to try the American Open Primary system.

Rajendra Bissessar’s letter published yesterday in the SN exposes all the rottenness of this ancient system that the PPP insists on using to elect its presidential candidate for the elections scheduled for 2011.

Rajendra wrote (referring to the 1997 PPP party selection process): “… Chairman Collymore jumped up and asked what could we do as Janet [Janet Jagan] had given an ultimatum that she would not contest if Bharrat was not made part of the team”.  The current or outgoing leader becomes so powerful in these political cultures that they can use almost any antics to “elect” their personal choice – and this is anything but democracy. Not “Democratic Centralism” democracy. Not popular (one-man, one-vote) democracy. 

Matriarch Janet Jagan issued an “ultimatum” and no man dared to oppose her. Current leader Jagdeo will deploy some similar antics and again no one will have the backbone to oppose him.  The individual who is courageous enough to oppose him will be singled out for punishment. He will lose his chance of being appointed to a future Ministerial post. This system leads to cronyism. It was imported from Jamaica or Russia 60-years ago. Its sole purpose was to ensure that founder-leaders would remain founder-leaders until death. It has run its course. Outlived its purpose. It should now be relegated to the dustbin of history.

“The ultimatum of Janet Jagan” is a clear demonstration of how easily the old system can be manipulated to thwart the practice of genuine democracy – and prevent the election of the most qualified and popular candidate. From this “ultimatum” story springs the best argument for the open primary.  

PPP’s general secretary, Donald Ramotar in defence of this ancient system says the election of the party’s presidential candidate is a private matter. Believe it or not! His statement was widely reported in the press. We are talking about the process of electing a president of a country in the 21st century. And, this man says it is a private party matter. It is as if the whole of Guyana is a privately-owned plantation.  

An open primary provides for an election involving all members of the party (some 1,020 members) – not just a handful of 36 so-called central committee members –  to vote freely to elect the next presidential candidate. But it is much more than that. It allows all the contesting candidates to freely present their platforms of ideas and programmes and canvas for the members’ votes.

 In this now discredited system, you are really “electing” an empty suit. You have absolutely no idea what the candidate stands for.

 The current, outgoing leader Jagdeo has formulated and implemented a new foreign policy: a dramatic shift from a pro-Western to an anti-Western one. He openly cavorts with the Brazil-Turkey-Iran axis in what can thwart the UN’s work of curtailing Iran’s efforts at building a nuclear bomb. This new foreign policy by Jagdeo goes against the grain of what the vast majority of Guyanese people support. To say nothing of doing business with Iran whose govt. openly and brutally kills protestors as they protest a stolen election.  Do the declared candidates Nagamootoo, Ramkarran, Rohee, Ramotar support this policy? They must be pressured to declare their positions.

 The crime wave in Guyana – violent crimes of robbery, rape, murder – goes on unabatedly every single day. The majority of these crimes go unsolved. The British Govt. offers help – money, crime technology and personnel. Jagdeo Govt. turns down the offer under the pretext that the British Govt. seeks to encroach on our “sovereignty”. The Guyanese people do not accept this explanation. They recognize the “sovereignty” explanation as nothing but a smoke screen to hide something. If you pay the British Govt. to re-colonize Guyana it will refuse. Where do the candidates stand on this matter? They must be pressured to declare their positions.

 Scores of the other major issues must be spelled out. And, candidates must feel obliged to state their positions. The members of the party must be given a chance to vote for the next leader based on their service and loyalty to the party, as well as on their positions on the major economic and political issues facing the nation.
 It appears so far only Nagamootoo is calling for an open primary.

Ramkarran says the ancient system that lends itself so readily to cronyism is fine. Can anyone seriously consider this man for president? 

 Ramotar and Rohee have a different strategy to win the nomination. Declare no positions on anything. Suck up to president Jagdeo – and hope that the president smiles on you and hands you the nomination on a platter.
 The time has come in this nation we call Guyana for the PPP to replace the old so-called “democratic centralism” system with an open primary. The only question is whether there is enough of a grass-root democracy at work to pressure the PPP to change.

 Yours faithfully,
 Mike Persaud
 New York

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