The main plot remains unresolved as it relates to who will lead the PPP into this year’s general election, but an intriguing sub-plot has developed regarding who will be joining the electoral slate as the prime ministerial candidate.
“It’s a major issue right now,” one party source told this newspaper, referring to the issue of who will be the prime ministerial candidate. According to the source, the matter has caused some amount of contention and uncertainty even as several names are being unofficially mooted.
Current Prime Minister Sam Hinds, who has served in this capacity for most of the PPP/C’s 18 ½ years in office, appears to be in his last term, in spite of there being no constitutional term limit on him holding office.
Hinds served briefly as President following the death of President Cheddi Jagan in 1997. When elections were held later that year, he returned as Prime Minister in the Janet Jagan-led administration. In August 1999, he stood down as Prime Minister to pave the way for then Finance Minister Bharrat Jagdeo to accede to the presidency, when Janet Jagan resigned due to ill health. Hinds was later reappointed as Prime Minister.
In all the elections the PPP and the Civic have contested as an alliance, the PPP nominee has always been the presidential candidate while a Civic member has been the prime ministerial candidate. But one of the outstanding questions is whether the PPP will go into the elections in alliance with the Civic.
Questioned on the issue recently, PPP General Secretary Donald Ramotar disclosed that the matter has not been discussed officially but stated that such an alliance is likely. “I can’t speak officially, but as it stands I would say yes,” Ramotar stated.
Asked about the process to select a prime ministerial candidate and if the candidate would be a Civic member, Ramotar said that this too was still to be discussed and decided upon.
The question of Hinds continuing as prime minister has not been discussed either, Ramotar said in response to a question, and neither has the role of the presidential candidate in choosing the prime ministerial candidate come to the fore. However, Ramotar later said that “the PPP is committed to the PPP/C alliance…and it is quite possible that the prime minister will be from the Civic.”
The PPP has delayed naming its presidential candidate although it has said that the process is coming to an end. The nominees for the post include Ramotar, Speaker of the National Assembly Ralph Ramkarran, Home Affairs Minister Clement Rohee and presidential advisor Gail Teixeira. Party veteran Moses Nagamootoo has essentially withdrawn himself from the process. Reports have recently surfaced about a likely nomination for current Agriculture Minister Robert Persaud.
One member of the Civic group told this newspaper that a lot of the concern has stemmed from the fact that the PPP is in the final stages of selecting its presidential candidate, but that the party is yet to formally engage the Civic members of government about an alliance and a possible prime ministerial candidate. Members of the Civic group are not involved in the selection of the PPP presidential candidate.
Several members of the cabinet are members of the Civic group. These include Education Minister Shaik Baksh, Transport and Hydraulics Minister Robeson Benn, Human Services Minister Priya Manickchand, Foreign Affairs Minister Carolyn Rodrigues-Birkett and Minister within the Ministry of Finance Jennifer Webster.
In the meantime, names from both the Civic group and the PPP are being mentioned as possible prime ministerial candidates. Among the names being put forward from the Civic are Benn and Rodrigues-Birkett.
When Stabroek News contacted Benn and asked about the possible PPP-Civic alliance and about any interest he might have in a prime ministerial post, he said he was not prepared to talk on the matter at this time.
Several efforts to contact Rodrigues-Birkett for comment over the past week were unsuccessful.
Stabroek News was also told that Dr Jennifer Westford, the current Public Service Minister, has been touted as another possible candidate. Westford is a member of the PPP, and is said to be getting support from several persons within the party and even some Civic members.
Another name being put forward, this newspaper was told, is that of Finance Minister Dr Ashni Singh. Singh, though, joined the PPP/C government as a technocrat minister and is neither a member of the PPP nor the Civic.
Odinga Lumumba, a Presidential Advisor and a member of the Civic group, said that the PPP and the Civic have not met as yet on the issue of a prime ministerial candidate. “It’s not appropriate to talk yet. We have to wait until the party decides on their candidate. After they have done it, I think it is appropriate for us to meet and talk. So talking now formally is a bit premature,” he told this newspaper.
Lumumba said that while it is expected that the PPP would offer the prime ministerial post to a Civic member this does not have to be the case.
He told this newspaper that if the prime ministerial post is offered to the Civic, preference should be given to Sam Hinds. “If the [current] Prime Minister decides to go again… the preference should go to him,” he said. “If the Prime Minister declines, then the Civic would have to look for a suitable candidate,” he said. He pointed out that the Civic group has a wide membership adding that it is not only made up of the persons who currently hold governmental posts.
Should the PPP decide to choose a prime ministerial candidate from among its own members, Lumumba said that he considers Rohee and Westford to be “two excellent candidates.” He declined to say who he would prefer to be the presidential candidate.