Biennial Congress

Mr Granger, the newly re-elected leader of the PNCR seems to be operating inside a bubble. While most observers along with many stalwarts of his party recognize the utter debacle which the events of last Sunday in Sophia represented, as we reported in our Friday edition, for his part he insisted that there had been no damage to the party’s image. The latest Biennial Congress, he said, had been a success, and although attempts had been made by a small group to tarnish the party’s image, these had failed. It must be remarked, that to all appearances this was said in absolute sincerity, and if so, then the Opposition Leader is more divorced from the political realities of this land than even his worst critics suspected.

In fact the problem started a long time before the 18th Biennial Congress got under way a week last Friday. There had been complaints from members – and not just from Linden – that they hadn’t received their cards, and without a card they could not vote in the elections. A few of these complaints reached the letter columns of this newspaper, but as far as can be discerned there was no appropriate response from those managing the arrangements for the party poll. Exasperation over the opaqueness of the accreditation process, and the alleged disenfranchisement of a number of members, was still rumbling on when Mr Granger was swept into the auditorium at the start of the Congress on July 25, to the cheers of his supporters.

It emerged subsequently that the Accreditation Committee of the party had not even met prior to the start of Congress, and that its work was done via email and telephone. Commentator Mr Christopher Ram in our newspaper called this “border[ing] on the edge of irresponsible.” He was being polite; it is nothing short of totally disrespectful for a party the size and age of the PNCR to run an accreditation process which is not perceived by the membership – and the nation, for that matter – to be fair, transparent and unassailable in terms of its integrity.

The allegations of manipulation in relation to the delegates’ list in order to secure a certain outcome from the vote, raised the spectre which has haunted the PNCR for years: rigging. In fact, this is not the first of the party’s internal elections at one level or another where this charge has been made; there are earlier examples, including the last Congress. At a critical time for the PNCR like this, therefore, when it is calling for local government elections and greater democracy at the national level, it is presenting to the electorate an unreconstructed face, damming any prospects it might otherwise have had of persuading voters that it had abandoned its earlier infamous ways. It is an unheralded gift to the PPP that will have set Freedom House all a-flutter; that party will recognize immediately how it could affect the balance of the local political world.

Of course, the PNCR hierarchy has vehemently denied that there was any manipulation of the electoral process, but even supposing it was merely a question of gross old-fashioned inefficiency, it would make no difference. The old hands in the party are only too conscious of the fact (even if Mr Granger isn’t) that perception is everything in politics, and there will be no rescuing the PNCR from the public perceptions of this Congress. Mr Granger is not in a position to persuade anyone outside the perimeter of the party constituency – and perhaps many of those inside it as well – that the PNCR is the reformed political entity they had hoped, and as such, it will have great difficulty increasing its vote share at the next election, or possibly even hanging on to what it garnered in the last poll.

The fiasco at the Congress last Sunday, complete with gunshot to reinforce the impressions of chaos, was particularly associated with the mishandling of the disenfranchisement complaints emanating from the Linden members. Mr Granger talks a lot about ‘inclusionary democracy,’ but he appears to lack the skills of compromise necessary that would enable him to practise it within the party. And the electorate will have noticed that too. If you cannot be ‘inclusionary’ within your own party, how can you persuade anyone that you would be able to deliver in that regard where other parties and their supporters are concerned?

Unlike the other towns of Guyana, Linden is industrial, and has always had something of an independent streak, as Mr Burnham found out to his cost. The imposition of a co-ordinator on the Linden party without consultation, therefore, was guaranteed to produce resistance, and the actions taken in relation to Ms Vanessa Kissoon, a Linden MP, were not designed to endear Lindeners to the party executive in Georgetown either. But strangely, the Sophia leaders seemed oblivious to the consequences of their actions.

But even allowing for all the mistakes made prior to the Congress, and the summoning of Ms Kissoon before a disciplinary committee following a contretemps with General Secretary Oscar Clarke, there was still room for negotiation with the Lindeners after the Congress had got under way. They were, after all, picketing on the Saturday, something which it was reported had not happened at Congress before, and a sure signal of problems to come. Why did nobody talk to them to try and sort out the issues? Allegations of disenfranchisement are not minor matters, and need to be addressed openly. Apart from anything else, such allegations would have reverberated far beyond the fence encircling Sophia even if Sunday’s events had never happened, and would still have discredited the party.

As it was, the sequence of occurrences led on to the storming of Congress last Sunday and the inevitable confusion which followed, including the firing of a gunshot. It was Ms Clarissa Riehl, a former Deputy House Speaker and experienced PNCR member who told this newspaper, “…when there was a surge at the gate from the Linden people who were dissatisfied, I know any of our past leaders would go and stand there and say ‘Come comrades, let’s have order and we’ll try to sort this out.’” Instead, she said, she saw Mr Granger standing aside with one of his senior members and a bodyguard drinking water. “I found that very strange,” she commented; “He should have been at the helm… You’re the head of this party. You’re supposed to use your authority to calm…”

Not only were his political instincts asleep in this instance, but later, when eventually pandemonium set in one might have thought that Mr Granger’s military instincts might have come to the fore and he would have taken command of the situation. However, he did nothing. In a rather different context, Ms Riehl called him “aloof,” and last weekend he appeared to live up to that description. Nothing he has said since, including his idiosyncratic explanation of why the disruption occurred, will have changed his image. What is interesting is that if the delegates’ list had been beyond reproach, and the Lindeners and others who claimed disenfranchisement had been on it and had voted, according to party insiders Mr Granger would still have won the poll. So what did the current executive have to lose by delivering an election process that no one could complain about?

If the PNCR by its own efforts has regenerated all the traditional suspicions about it at the national level, there is also the question of APNU to consider. What will be the WPA’s response, one wonders, to this fiasco, and will it continue to work within the framework of the coalition, and if it does for the time being, will it be prepared to go into the next election with the PNCR?

Finally, there is the matter of the party itself. There is now a rift, and some of its most respected members who have something to contribute will probably step back, or in certain cases, perhaps leave altogether. That too will not promote a very good image to the outside world, and may weaken the party further. Administering a party is a very different exercise from running an army, and it is the norm for members sometimes not to be in tandem with their executive. Democratic politics is rarely about unanimity.

Exactly how the PNCR recovers from this is not obvious. At a minimum, however, there would need to be some serious introspection, some genuine negotiations and compromise, some major house-cleaning and some decisions about how to find a path to transparency, integrity and accountability, so what the party does is in conformity with what it preaches. Hypocrisy has never been recommended as the best way to win votes.

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