Will Ramotar be able to energize the PPP’s base?

Dear Editor,

Donald Ramotar, much like, Bharrat Jagdeo, has to be one of the luckiest persons in the world. Mr Jagdeo’s luck is that he was placed centre stage as part of a PPP triumvirate because the PPP leadership could not arrive at a consensus regarding a replacement for former president, Cheddi Jagan. Subsequently, Mr Jagdeo replaced Janet Jagan when the latter decided to step down as president; in effect the presidency was literally handed to him on a platter. Mr Ramotar’s luck is that having been handed the position of General Secretary of the PPP by default, he positioned himself to be favoured by President Jagdeo, whose influence ensured that Mr Ramotar ended up as the PPP presidential candidate for elections 2011. Both Messrs Jagdeo and Ramotar were initially seen as non-threatening. Furthermore, Mr Jagdeo’s candidacy was the result of machinations by Janet Jagan, which is likened to Mr Ramotar’s candidacy being the result of machinations by President Jagdeo.

However, Mr Jagdeo did not emerge from the top echelons of the PPP, was not schooled in the inner workings of the PPP, did not climb the ladder but rather was catapulted from near bottom to the top, had a negligible record of political activism and certainly very little emotive connection with PPP membership or deep loyalty to the party and its structure. Mr Ramotar, on the other hand, did climb a few rungs of the ladder, is a consummate PPP insider, is connected to the membership through years of activism and is considered a hard-core party loyalist. Yet during his stewardship of the PPP he sat idly by and allowed President Jagdeo to not only emasculate the leadership (alienating/isolating some the party’s heroes in the process, Nagamootoo being the best example as well as publicly humiliating the person responsible for his (Jagdeo’s) luck, the matriarch of the PPP, Janet Jagan) but also ignoring/isolating the Freedom House old guard and presiding over the decay of the party’s national structure, a structure that kept the PPP alive and active during its more than quarter century in the political wilderness.

Thus the obvious questions are: Is Mr Ramotar going to have the unequivocal support of the PPP leadership? Is he going to be able to mobilize and energize the party’s mass base? After all it is already known that the well-publicized spats between Mr Jagdeo on the one hand and the Chanderpauls, GAWU/ Komal Chand and Moses Nagamootoo on the other would not have endeared Mr Ramotar to these individuals/ entities, especially since his voice was silent in the defence of his long-standing comrades and for many years, close friends. Where would these individuals therefore now stand? Would Mr Nagamootoo allow himself to be used once again as happened at the last elections? Or would he finally show some backbone and independence?  Would the Chanderpauls be enthusiastic campaigners for Mr Ramotar? Would Komal Chand mobilize GAWU in support of Mr Ramotar? The fact is that, thus far, the only person from among PPP significants who has hit the campaign trail for Mr Ramotar is President Jagdeo. Yet Mr Jagdeo is acting more in his capacity as president rather than as representative of the PPP. In this respect therefore could Mr Ramotar be in a situation akin to that of the PNC’s David Granger who has no PNC bigwig campaigning for him? And if GAWU does not give full public endorsement and support to Mr Ramotar, would that mean that many of the GAWU members (who are also part of the core of the PPP mass base) would sit out the elections? It should be recalled that a significant segment of PPP support did stay home during the last elections. And it should also be recalled that the PPP has garnered fewer and fewer votes at successive elections after 1992, even though it has won all elections since.

But Mr Ramotar’s problems do not end there. With the PPP’s national structure in disarray, the kind of groundwork and house-to-house campaigning that is the roti and curry of electoral campaigns would be difficult to achieve this time round. This means that the door may be ajar for other political entities to move in and claim some of that traditional PPP ground. How would the PPP combat this? And given that any number of traditional grass roots PPP activists have become disillusioned, if not disenchanted by the PPP’s internal wrangling, the neglect of the groups and the lack of recognition for their efforts, would they be open to overtures from other political entities? At the minimum they could easily decide to sit out the elections and could influence others to do so as well. While it is true that Mr Ramotar’s coffers may be overflowing, anyone familiar with Guyana’s politics knows that simply throwing money at a campaign means very little if supporters and potential supporters are not made to feel appreciated and valued and if there is not a viable, energized network to do intensive and extensive outreach.

Then there is Mr Ramotar, the leader.  Until his announcement that he was throwing his hat in the presidential candidate ring, not very many viewed him as leadership material. Rather he was seen as one of those who was kicked up the ladder as a reward for loyalty and years of dedicated service. Now in spite of having been anointed, Mr Ramotar still continues to display leadership that is lacking in charisma, vision or energy, and in fact, simply seems to be riding on President Jagdeo’s coat tails.

This has led to speculation, in some quarters, that Ramotar will become Medvedev to Guyana’s Putin and that Jagdeo will be pulling the strings in the background. Some have gone so far as to suggest that Mr Ramotar’s candidacy is a one-term measure to foster a Jagdeo run in 2016, as constitutionally, Mr Jagdeo can then do so.

Besides, in spite of achievements, real or perceived, President Jagdeo can very well be a millstone around Mr Ramotar’s neck. Rhetoric aside, how will Mr Ramotar address allegations of African marginalization; the spate of crime and violence; nepotism; lack of governance transparency; incidents of government bullying; the erosion of the professionalism of the police force; the politicizing of and chipping away at the rights of the media; problematic awarding of contracts and concomitant shabby work; a drift away from the ideals of Cheddi Jagan; the marginalization of the PPP rank and file as well as the neglect of its structure and grass roots activists; the rise of narco-royalty and their connections with political leaders; the incestuous relationship between political overlords and the rich and privileged; Jagdeo’s micro-management (in what is referred to as “his personal fiefdom” by WikiLeaks et al). Certainly the PPP’s once powerful and potent propaganda machinery is non-existent, and the army of letter writers operating out of the office of the president and the Chronicle are, at best, meant for comic relief. The loss of touch with older/retired stalwarts, both at home and in the diaspora, means that their energy, enthusiasm, skills and experience cannot be harnessed, as has been the practice in the past.

Meanwhile the fact that the PPP postponed its constitutionally due congress, ostensibly citing the need to focus on elections, is not only further proof that President Jagdeo has little regard for the party’s structure, but also an indication that Jagdeo and Ramotar do not want to face the wrath of the PPP membership, most of whom still hold stalwarts like Moses Nagamootoo and Navin Chanderpaul in much higher esteem than Donald Ramotar. The duo may also have feared the embarrassment of Mr Ramotar coming low down the pecking order when election results would have been declared for the Central Committee.

In effect is the PPP at its most vulnerable since 1992? Some analysts think so as do its political opponents. In fact, the AFC is on record as aiming to ensure that the PPP does not win a plurality in the upcoming elections, although many commentators and analysts opine that AFC’s campaign is all about rhetoric with very little on the ground to make this possible.

Such a result could mean déjà vu for the PPP à la 1964, although the AFC is on record as not wanting any political accommodation with the PNC. And a Ramotar government in partnership with AFC also does not seem likely since the AFC has stated that it will not entertain any political accommodation with the PPP either. So that leaves a PPP/APNU coming together. Shades of power-sharing maybe?

Yours faithfully,
Annan Boodram

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