Parliamentary opposition

Last week PPP General Secretary Clement Rohee wrote to the newspapers about the precarious state of the Cummingsburg Accord. He had nothing to say, however, about the situation within his own sphere of responsibility, or when his party would go to Parliament. He had indicated at an earlier press conference that this would happen “at its own pace.”

Too much dilatoriness on the part of the PPP is not in the interest of the country, let alone its constituents who voted for it. The nation needs a vibrant opposition which can challenge the government when it is talking nonsense, and ask searching questions about actions which appear to be improper and decisions which are misconceived. That cannot be done successfully from the sidelines with periodic press releases and briefings from Freedom House; these lack gravitas. In Parliament, in contrast, the party’s MPs would have a public platform, and would be heard at the same time as the government members, with their arguments being reported in the newspapers and presentations given exposure by the broadcast media.

The electorate wants to see some real work done in the National Assembly in this 11th Parliament, rather than the endless rhetoric and aggressive posturing of the last one. A number of more serious issues – and bills – go to Select Committee, and the PPP potentially has an important contribution to make here. In addition, of course, it is the forum to have all kinds of discussion with the government members, in which various ideas can be explored.

Of course the fly in the ointment is that the PPP/C can’t go to Parliament until it submits its list of MPs, and that can’t be submitted until those who inhabit the corridors of Freedom House have come to some accord on who the Leader of the Opposition should be. That, it must be said, is probably not as simple a decision as it appears. In consonance with all Marxist-Leninist parties, the leader of the PPP has always been the General Secretary, in the present case, Mr Rohee. Cheddi Jagan remained General Secretary until his death in 1997, and was, at the same time, either Premier, Minority Leader or President according to the period. It was on his death that the two roles became separated, with Mrs Janet Jagan becoming President, and Mr Donald Ramotar being made General Secretary. One does not have the impression that there is any intention at the moment to unite the two positions again.

Under former President Bharrat Jagdeo, the post of General Secretary became diminished, both on account of the force of his personality and because he dominated the party, even though he held no formal position within it. Former President Ramotar, did not present too much of a challenge to the new General Secretary in his own right, but the general perception of the public was that Mr Jagdeo lurked in the background, and exercised almost the same influence over Freedom House decision-making as he had done when he was head of state.

As it is, most political pundits think it is most unlikely that Mr Rohee, despite his volubility in the post of General Secretary, will be catapulted into the position of Leader of the Opposition. Whoever else is chosen will inevitably supersede the General Secretary, whose grip on the party will be reduced further, even if Mr Jagdeo is no longer in the background. A Leader of the Opposition will control the MPs in Parliament, and will be the one whose opinions will be canvassed by the media on most topics; within Freedom House too s/he is likely to carry considerable weight for a variety of reasons.

But if not Mr Rohee, then who? The situation is complicated by the fact that there are two former presidents on the PPP’s pre-election parliamentary lists – Messrs Ramotar and Jagdeo. Under normal circumstances it might be thought that as the immediate past president, the former would be made Leader of the Opposition, but given his lacklustre performance in his three years as head of state, there might be those in the decision-making echelons of the party who would be opposed to this.

Then there is the problematic case of Mr Jagdeo, who has reiterated on several occasions in the past that he was not seeking any official appointment. In any case, Mr Jagdeo has been a divisive figure in the PPP, and it is hard to imagine there being any consensus on him being named Opposition Leader, although there can be no absolute certainty on these things. That said, one cannot imagine either that he would go into Parliament if Mr Ramotar were there too, more especially if the latter were the Leader of the Opposition. However, it could be speculated that he might not want to become an MP, but would support the immediate past president leading the PPP members in the National Assembly, in circumstances where he still controlled the party machinery. As such, he would remain the eminence grise, just as he allegedly has been for the last three years or so. By the same token, one could envisage there would be those in Robb Street who would oppose making Mr Ramotar the leader for exactly this reason.

But if not Mr Ramotar or Mr Jagdeo, then who? Various names have been toyed with by observers, all of whom derive from the younger ranks of the party. They include such people as Priya Manickchand, Ashni Singh and Anil Nandlall, although the last mentioned has probably blotted his copybook irreparably with his Kaieteur News telephone call, and the outburst at the US Ambassador’s residence by the first named, might give one or two senior members pause for thought, more especially if they want to repair relations with the West.

Dr Singh’s name was mentioned in an email sent to her colleagues by Dr Vindhya Persaud, who earned herself no brownie points from them for doing so after this communication escaped into the public domain. From the email’s contents it is clear she is one of the more progressive members of the party, and presumably there are younger cadres who think as she does, and who may support Dr Singh too for the post of Leader of the Opposition.

The public is curious not just about the identity of the new Opposition Leader, but who exactly will be made an MP. There were 93 names on the list submitted by the PPP before the election, only about a third of whom could go into the National Assembly. There were people from outside the party on the list, such as business leader Mr Clinton Urling, but after he wrote citing Mr Jagdeo’s harmful influence on the party, it seems unlikely he will find himself among the chosen one third.

Then there are significant outsiders such as their prime ministerial candidate Mrs Elisabeth Harper, who had no connection with the PPP as far as anyone knew prior to her recruitment. Will she be asked to go into Parliament? After all, had the party won she would have been the country’s prime minister. That she has not broken connections with Freedom House was made clear from the photo on the front page of the Weekend Mirror where she could be seen sitting next to Mr Ramotar at the PPP press conference on June 18.

Then there were all those children of PPP seniors on the list who were touted as the youth contingent. Were they just young padding for the purposes of the election, or are they seen as the inheritors of the PPP flame? If they all go into the National Assembly, then quite a few older hands will have to make room for them.

Whatever Freedom House decides, it is important that it injects some urgency into the process, and operates with more celerity than Mr Rohee seems to think it is required to do. The nation needs an opposition in Parliament, and the sooner that happens, the better.


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