The outcome of last week’s general elections in Guyana reminds me of what happened in Trinidad in 2001 as a result of a division in the ruling camp when a party stalwart was not on the party’s list of candidates. The party’s core group of supporters became divided and the party lost its majority in parliament as a result of not having their favourite candidate on the list.
In Trinidad, the then ruling UNC dumped Attorney General Ramesh Maharaj (when he demanded investigations into corruption). UNC Leader Basdeo Panday and the small clique around him said Maharaj had no support and the party went into the elections without him. Maharaj formed a party (Team Unity) that pulled some 34,000 plus votes from the UNC costing the party the government. Thousands more stayed home refusing to vote for the UNC as a result of Panday’s refusal to address the corruption stench. Mr Basdeo Panday who was Prime Minister was never able to win an election again and the party’s support progressively declined. He subsequently expressed regrets for firing Maharaj and courted his return to the party in 2006. Mr Panday is reported to have told people that breaking with Maharaj was the biggest blunder of his political life.
In Guyana, I am told the ruling PPP did not pay attention to Moses Nagamootoo. It was felt that Mr Nagamootoo did not have support and so the party apparently ignored him. The polls I conducted showed Mr Nagamootoo was enormously popular. Feeling alienated, Mr Nagamootoo left the PPP and joined up with the AFC. It was because of Mr Nagamootoo’s popularity that the AFC pulled over 20,000 votes (and at least four seats) from the PPP costing the ruling party its majority in parliament. Like Mr Maharaj in Trinidad, Mr Nagamootoo proved he has solid and cannot- be-ignored support. The PPP stalwart is enormously popular on the ground among rank and file grass-roots PPP supporters and many PPP-ites left the party with him. Was allowing Mr Nagamootoo to go with the AFC the biggest political blunder for the PPP?
When Mr Maharaj returned to the UNC in 2006, the party supporters returned. It will be in the PPP’s interest to court the return of Mr Nagamootoo if the party is win back those who left with him and those who stayed home on election day. Political reconciliation is the way to go if the PPP is to recover from its losses.