‘Partnership’

There have never been many elements underlying Guyana’s modern political drama. The main one has always been demography (which still exerts its sway) reinforced by a form of maximum leader cult. The original maximum leaders – Burnham, Hoyte and the two Jagans – have now gone, however, and while Jagdeo has acquired his own following by astute manipulation of his presidential powers, he cannot run again. As it is, there is no one with even a hint of the charisma which characterised the first generation leaders on the political horizon, although that, if nothing else would mean that at least one portion of the political playing field was level.

There are, however, one or two imponderables in the situation which could affect the election to a greater or lesser degree. One, as mentioned in an earlier editorial, is the current apathy of the electorate, although whether that will hold until the actual election remains to be seen, and even if it does, whether it will have an appreciable impact on all or any of the parties in terms of vote-share depends on a number of variables, not the least of which is the state of the PNC. 

Presidential candidate David Granger’s understated style and lack of ubiquity apart, to onlookers there has appeared to be a divide between the old-style political PNC, and the new ex-military assistants who seem to be in charge of the campaign. Since 1992, the main opposition has garnered considerable experience in running a campaign, but its traditional figures who must be familiar with what needs to be done, are not very much in evidence. In fact, until Friday, Mr Corbin himself, the ostensible leader of the party has been notable by his absence.

It was on Friday, of course, that the Joint Opposition Political Parties (JOPP) announced their proposal to launch A Partnership for National Unity (APNU), which, as we reported yesterday, is not, it was announced, a political party but an association of political parties, Guyanese organizations and citizens sharing a common desire and guided by a Statement of Principles. The parties involved are the PNC, the WPA, GAP and the National Front Alliance, and they are expected to be joined by Peter Ramsaroop’s Guyana People’s Partnership.

Of the new APNU combination, the only party with meaningful representation in the National Assembly is the PNC (GAP has one seat); the only party with the machinery and organization covering all regions to mount a viable national campaign is the PNC; the only party with any kind of constituency is the PNC; and the only party with the potential to raise funds on the scale required (and even that is by no means assured) is the PNC. In other words, in terms of a political alliance, the PNC is at the core of arrangements, and if it ever pulled out, the ‘Partnership’ would become meaningless.

All the vague talk of organizations joining the grouping is equally meaningless; no matter what spin is put on it, any association which under normal circumstances promotes a non-political image would be declaring a political affiliation if it joined, making it unlikely that it would. And in any case, how can individuals or organizations join what is effectively a coalition, as opposed to a specific party? That aside, winning votes is all about numbers, and other than the PNC base (which itself may not be as solid as it used to be), where could the other votes possibly come from?  Unless the AFC – a party with a parliamentary profile and at least in the last election, one that constituted some kind of third force – were to throw in its lot with APNU (which it has insisted it will not do), the electorate will see the new ‘Partnership’ for what it is: the same PNC party with a coating of fudge.

The problem for the PNC is that although it is contributing everything to this ‘Partnership,’ it is really not getting anything much in return; it is subsuming its traditional identity and the symbols which go with that under a nebulous kind of coalition boasting an acronym which hardly trips of the tongue with any felicity. How can the PNC base be energized when they have not been given the time to accustom themselves to this alien concept with its eccentric double symbols, and when nobody in the party hierarchy has made the effort to explain to them how it will work? In practical terms, how will they respond when there is no Palm Tree on the ballot paper? If the PNC had problems with its constituents staying home in 2006, that situation conceivably might be compounded in 2011.  

Inevitably the man who will lead APNU is Mr Granger. No other positions have been decided as yet; these, we are told, will be announced on July 8 at the official launch of the ‘Partnership.’ Given the fact that the PNC candidate will lead the grouping and the PNC will have to organize and probably resource most of the campaign, it doesn’t matter who the prime ministerial candidate will be; he (or she) will have no more clout than Mr Hinds has in the PPP. What is more interesting is who the Representative of the List will be because of that person’s control of the MPs who sit in Parliament. If Mr Corbin retains that position, and the ‘Partnership’ loses, he becomes the critical figure, not the former presidential candidate. (One cannot think that the PNC would entertain anyone from outside the party holding that position.)

Then there is the matter of the apportionment of seats, more especially since no other party, as said above, is bringing a constituency (or a constituency of any substance) with it. Here again, it is the PNC which will have to make the sacrifices, and exactly how that will go down both with the base and the membership – more particularly the latter’s upper echelons – is uncertain. In addition, what has appeared from the outside to be a lack of cohesion in the PNC up to this point, will not be addressed by what may be construed in some quarters as a name change and considerable concessions to minuscule entities. In fact, the new arrangements if not carefully managed and promoted to the membership, have the potential to cause even further divisions in the party.  

Whether the AFC can benefit from any disillusionment among PNC voters as they did the last time around simply cannot be gauged at present. In 2006, of course, Mr Raphael Trotman a defector from the PNC was the presidential candidate, while this time, the candidate is Mr Khemraj Ramjattan, a former member of the PPP. It might be remarked that since 1992, a non-racial message in the abstract has not had much resonance with voters, as the WPA found out to its cost. Whether the AFC can attract any PPP votes is very unclear too; it did not manage to do so the last time around, although on that occasion Mr Ramjattan was the prime ministerial candidate, not the presidential one. The Amerindian vote, which nowadays is critical to the success of the PPP, has been bought off by the governing party with state resources.

And as for the PPP, which began its campaign ranting about its version of the PNC’s past, it has given the impression that it needs to invigorate an apathetic base as well, otherwise why would it be necessary for it to go back to the endlessly recited 28 years? Since the self-effacing Mr Ramotar is not really all that well known among rank and file constituents, it is the President himself who is taking the lead in the campaign. As observed in an earlier editorial, he is the head of government, so he is in a position to distribute state largesse. In any case, as has now become a standard pattern, potholes are being filled, bridges repaired, pumps rehabilitated and roads asphalted. Will all this last-minute feverish activity on the part of the authorities affect voting patterns? Other than in the hinterland, the answer is probably not, although what it might do is prevent the build-up of resentment prior to an election which might cause a voter here and there to stay home.

A low voter turn-out in the last election gave the PPP an increased majority, because more PNC electors stayed home than did PPP ones. With no charismatic leader, apparent divisions and now a new name and associates, it is yet to be revealed what strategy the PNC has devised to avoid a reprise of that scenario.

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