When life hands you lemons, you sometimes have no choice but to make lemonade. President Donald Ramotar came to power under the shadow of Bharrat Jagdeo. It was a repeat of Mr Jagdeo’s rise to power under the meddlesome and domineering influence of Janet Jagan. Mr Ramotar got a minority government. Truthfully, most expected him to do no better since he was not the PPP’s best candidate. Nothing’s changed under him. Virtually every single appointee, confidante and advisor of Mr Jagdeo has retained his/her place in President Ramotar’s inner circle. Some new Jagdeo square pegs like Juan Edghill have found round holes under Ramotar. The master underperformer Minister Robert Persaud has a new ministry made just for him.
After all his senseless political masquerading, frantic grandstanding, baseless claims and insipid attacks of electoral fraud by the opposition targeted at raising the temperature, President Ramotar has to come to the realization that he, as the uninspiring leader he is, and the party, as the failed entity it has become, cannot win a snap election. The PPP will still come up short. Look at the strikes in the sugar belt and the protests of farming communities about the incompetence relating to the recent flooding and you know that the PPP will come up short among Indians again. As they say “this time nah lang time.”
Mr Ramotar is in a den of his own choosing and I suspect he is not sophisticated, perceptive and Machiavellian enough to know how to extricate himself from those surrounding him. That is, if he wants to escape.
However, if President Ramotar is truly committed to finding his own voice, picking his own people, shaking things up, being his own man without the towering influence of Mr Jagdeo and the Jagdeoites and fixing the country, this minority government situation is a perfect opportunity for him to break free from the Jagdeo influence. He can use the pressure for transparency, competency and accountability from the opposition-controlled Parlia-ment as justification for moving the many square pegs who continue to dominate the halls of power. The opposition could provide Mr Ramotar with great openings to craft government in his own fashion and to weaken the power of the Jagdeoites around him. For example, if Parliament investigates NICIL, say, and evidence of irregularity did in fact surface, it would be a ripe moment to radically reform that institution and remodel it to serve the nation properly.
President Ramotar could also independently, and before it is done by the opposition, push an agenda of transparency and accountability. It would literally steal the opposition’s thunder while wiping out the corruption within government and party.
If the PPP is pushing change, firing the inept and corrupt and making corrections, people will start paying attention to the party again. Its own supporters will start embracing it again. Most critically, that decent percentage of crossover votes that it used to get every election and which continue to decline will find it tempting to return to the PPP. President Ramotar must know that his continued embrace of Jagdeo’s brand of politics will destroy his own political fortunes.
While the head of state may feel as if he has reached the pinnacle in terms of political achievement (the Jagans certainly never saw him as ministerial moreso presidential material), he must know that the presidency of this country is a pivotal responsibility. It offers the holder of the office an opportunity to shape this country in a particular direction. Minority government offers him an aperture to fix this country. He could point to the opposition tying his hands in Parliament to offset the backlash from those within his own party who will be opposed to openness, accountability, fairness and equality. If President Ramotar did not know it before, he knows now that nation always comes before party.
The question is whether he possesses the courage and indomitability to make tough decisions to change this nation for the better. Whether he is his own man, assured of his own intellectual prowess, confident of his own decision-making and unwavering in his moral clarity. These are the values that separate men just holding office from leaders.