It will be some time before a definitive determination can be made regarding the real significance of the leadership change that occurred a matter of days ago inside the People’s National Congress/Reform. (PNC/R) What is not in doubt even at this early stage is that the change will either make or break the political career of the man whom the country’s major opposition party has decided will take over as its leader.
Retired Guyana Defence Force Brigadier David Arthur Granger’s political ascendancy has been swift if not altogether surprising. He may have been a long-standing member of the the PNC/R but up until relatively recently he had not been thought of as a contender for the leadership of the party. All that began to change over the past two years or so when it came to public knowledge that he was interested in leading the party into the 2011 general elections.
If the one-time army Commander had come to be respected as an academic, writer and political commentator, word that he was about to enter into the amphitheatre of local politics was greeted with considerable skepticism in some quarters. The view among skeptics was that Granger might not be up to the rough and tumble of the eternal political jousting between the PNC/R and its arch rival, the People’s Progressive Party/Civic. It appears, however, that influential forces inside the party had already earmarked Granger for a meteoric political elevation.
Granger is credited with ‘putting together’ the coalition between the PNC/R and a number of lesser political parties to form what is now the parliamentary coalition known as A Partnership for National Unity (APNU). Arguably, knitting together such a coalition has been Granger’s sternest political test to date. There were points in time when making such a coalition a realisation proved to be a delicate task and had Granger not prevailed the PNC/R would have been left to face the 2011 general elections on its own in circumstances where it clearly had no appetite for so doing.
Several questions arise now that Granger is both Leader of the opposition parliamentary majority in the National Assembly as well as Leader of the country’s main opposition political party; and perhaps the most important question has to do with just how much political authority Granger now holds. He would doubtless be aware that the PNC/R is no longer Burnham’s “vanguard party” and moreover that he is by no means the ‘maximum leader’ that Burnham was. In fact, as was pointed out in a recent Stabroek News editorial (Tuesday July 31) the end of Robert Corbin’s tenure as Leader of the PNC marked the end of the occupancy of that position by direct political descendants of the Founder Leader. Granger belongs to a new generation of PNC/R leaders who did not rise to political prominence under Burnham.
In the months since entering the National Assembly as head of the APNU Granger has attracted some measure of criticism from both inside and outside the PNC/R for what his critics say has been a lack of assertiveness in engaging the administration of President Donald Ramotar. On the other hand there are those who Appear to trust the new PNC/R leader’s negotiating skills. “At the end of the day I believe that he has a sense of when to turn the screws” a political commentator remarked to this newspaper recently.
The result of the recent party leadership elections which he reportedly won by a handsome majority suggests that Granger has the backing of the majority of party members including key party leaders. That having been said Granger must surely know that he must now win the backing of the rank and file party supporters who, in the final analysis, will have a major say in how he is judged as party leader.
Granger will, in the first instance, have to demonstrate generous measures of resolve and decisiveness in pressing ahead with what must surely be the PNC/R’s biggest task, rebuilding a badly fractured party and recruiting more members to its ranks from across the country. Here, Granger’s biggest challenge is likely to be that of re-energizing disaffected supporters who may still be inclined to give the PNC/R their vote but are not bashful about expressing loss of confidence in the party.
No less daunting will be the task of mobilizing the human and financial resources necessary for the rebuilding of the PNC/R. The party no longer has the sheer numbers of foot soldiers which it had at its disposal during the Burnham era. More than that it now lacks the financial wherewithal which it once had to do the job that lies ahead of it.
More than that it is no secret that Granger is not universally liked inside the PNC/R. Some of his detractors are long servants of the party who can make his life at the top difficult. What is likely is that his critics will consider him a much bigger target now that he is at the helm.
At the level of national politics Granger must of course work to hold both the APNU coalition and the opposition’s one-seat parliamentary majority together, tasks that will continue to test his political toughness as much as his leadership skills; this in an environment that is likely to be decidedly unforgiving of such errors as he might make in the process.
Arguably, Granger has not been on the national political front burner long enough to allow for a full assessment of his political strengths and weaknesses. What is known about him is that he has a preference of resolving problems by negotiation though some of his critics have said that he does not always demonstrate a proclivity for consensus.
At sixty seven Granger would know that his career at the apex of Guyanese politics is limited and that at best his task is to steer the PNC/R through a difficult phase. What makes his task a monumentally important one, however, is that how he fares in the period ahead could determine the future of the PNC/R and, by extension, the country’s political future.