The recent Congress of the PPP concluded just as was predicted by me in a recent article (‘The PPP’s 30th Congress’). There was lots of applause, the Central Committee Report was adopted unanimously, poor organizational work was declared to be responsible for the 2011 electoral defeat, the opposition and some other ‘enemies’ were identified and vilified (myself and Moses Nagamootoo) and a new Central Committee was elected without any headline catching result.
An atmosphere was established which appeared to rule out any new initiatives to break the political deadlock. Even if a more structured mode of conversation with the opposition had been proposed, it is difficult to see how that could be accomplished or produce any results after the opposition was accused of ‘criminal’ and ‘terrorist’ conduct.
Post-Congress events were more interesting. There had been speculation among persons with knowledge of the PPP that Clement Rohee would be elected General Secretary. I doubted it because I did not believe that President Ramotar would give up the post. I felt that he might want to maintain maximum authority in order to ensure that there are no challengers for the post of presidential candidate next time around.
He knows that if a product is rejected by the public once, it is likely to be rejected the second time around. The party hierarchy would therefore have doubts about returning to the public with the same product.
I was wrong in my assessment and Clement Rohee is the new General Secretary, most likely in accordance with the wishes of President Ramotar. Mr Rohee and President Ramotar have been friends and comrades since they were young men and they get on well. He would be supportive of a Ramotar re-nomination for a second term.
Mr Rohee’s tenure as a cabinet member is coming to an end after more than twenty years. He said so himself. The post of General Secretary, therefore, offers him a high political profile and decisive authority in the PPP for many years to come. If Mr Rohee is allowed to exercise his authority, doubtful at best, his first task will be to try to reconcile emerging leadership tensions.
But if push comes to shove, and the tensions express themselves in factional outcomes more serious than the Anil Nandlall episode described below, he will be in President Ramotar’s corner.
In policy terms there are no differences in principle in the top leadership of the party. Divergent views will exist in relation to political tactics but not about the direction of the party or government.
No one would now dare depart from the authorized wisdom for fear of the culture of abuse that is seen in public and which is equally alive in private, as I can testify. Mr Rohee subscribes with great fervour to the dominant narrative. He has good reason to make no concessions to the opposition. The PNCR has relentlessly harassed and ridiculed him for twenty years.
While Mr Rohee sometimes speaks without the care and consideration that a seasoned politician ought to do, and is criticized for it, this belies the fact that he is the PPP’s most formidable organizer.
He has honed his organizing skills over many years, is innovative, delegates well while being attentive to detail, and at the same time is in firm control of the big picture. His biggest challenge will be to bring home victory at the next elections by deploying his considerable experience and talent. Elections are likely to be on the horizon after the failure of Amaila and the political gridlock which now shows no signs of abating.
A surprising outcome from the Congress was the failure of Attorney General Anil Nandlall to secure a seat on the Executive Committee after doing very well at elections for the Central Committee. Mr Nandlall is a rising star, was first elected to the Central Committee in 2006, has paid his dues and is popular. The only reason he lost was because a negative campaign was mounted against him. He was surpassed by new entrants to the Central Committee who were elected to the Executive Committee, which has been hitherto unheard of and the promotion of returning figures. This was obviously engineered to keep him out.
It is ironic that President Ramotar cautioned against campaigning against Mr Jagdeo when negative campaigning against me at the 2008 Congress was defended after it was raised by Mrs Jagan at the first Central Committee meeting after the 2008 Congress. President Ramotar, forgetting the contrived defence of negative campaigning in 2008, sought to protect Mr Jagdeo.
But he omitted to come to the aid of the most active and articulate defender of himself and his government even though he would have known that some members of the leadership were gunning for his friend.
It would be very difficult if not impossible in the near future for Mr Nandlall to overcome his powerful opponents, if at all, without backing from influential leaders, such as President Ramotar and General Secretary Rohee having regard to those arrayed against him. Since they do not appear willing to offer support, and step on the toes of the emerging, or already entrenched, factional leader, Mr Nandlall may opt for the long haul and hope for the best. He has youth on his side.