AFC remains strong, credible -Ramjattan

The Alliance for Change (AFC) has not lost credibility and remains a strong, influential party in the Guyana political arena and will ignore “nonsensical” criticisms and continue to be a servant of all of the people, the party’s Chairman Khemraj Ramjattan says.

He dismissed the assertions of former People’s Progressive Party executive  Ralph Ramkarran, who has said that the AFC should have all of its members resign their Cabinet posts and instead serve as watchdog parliamentarians to ensure the fulfilment of election campaign promises.

Ramkarran contended in his column in yesterday’s Sunday Stabroek that the government’s reluctance to pursue constitutional reform has damaged the credibility of the AFC which has seen it lose key support.

But Ramjattan feels that Ramkarran, who he served alongside when both were PPP/C executives, is just pushing vacuous chatter and posited that Ramkarran’s assertions are not grounded in concretized facts but personal views.

Khemraj Ramjattan

“This is a free country and more and more this government is going to ensure that free speech be enjoyed by everybody, even those who can talk the very idiotic and the every insulting and offensive. We are going allow the `chatterati’ to continue to chat and we are not going to block them,” he told Stabroek News yesterday.

“We have a party that is intact. We recently came out of a national conference earlier this year and we also have had our national executive make some fundamentally sound decisions and we are a force in this country’s political landscape,” he added.

In his latest column yesterday, Ramkarran said that the failure of the APNU+AFC coalition go-vernment to proceed with constitutional reform and the AFC’s seeming inability to push this agenda has deprived the party of much of its credibility and raison d’etre.

“If the AFC has been pushing for constitutional reform and the government as a whole has been dragging its feet, the time has come for the AFC ministers to resign from the government,” Ramkarran wrote.

“By resigning its ministries, the AFC will restore some of its credibility and perhaps support. The public will see that for the AFC, political office and the perks are of less importance than political principle; that the AFC is determined to ensure that its policy of the end of racial politics is implemented; and that the AFC is a party of integrity. The new relationship between APNU and the AFC, with the AFC out of the government but its members sitting on the back benches, should be the subject of the new or amended accord, whether negotiated in Cummingsburg or elsewhere, which the AFC is proposing to have with APNU,” he reasoned.

Stabroek News tried to elicit the views of the AFC’s ministers on Ramkarran’s position.

Leader of the Party and Minister of Natural Resources, Raphael Trotman said that he did not read the article as he was out of the capital over the weekend.

Minister of Public Infrastructure, David Patterson, said that he, too, didn’t read the article but that he was not in the habit of reading Ramkarran’s pieces based on several inaccuracies he had penned some time ago.

Minister of Public Telecommunications, Cathy Hughes, said she was dealing with a traumatic family matter and asked that her views be deferred to another time.

Efforts to contact the three other ministers proved futile as calls to their phones went unanswered.

Tremendous support

Asked if he felt his party is losing credibility, Ram-jattan replied, “Absolutely not, because of the fact that there is tremendous support for the party.  In difficult times, expectations that people sometimes have for us cannot be met as a result of the difficult times and so on, but like every other political party that was of sound influence, we hold our ground and we will listen to the criticisms, make necessary changes and dust ourselves and go on. But credibility? Who would have lost credibility?”

Pointing to decisions on the closure of some sugar estates in a move to revamp the ailing sugar industry, Ramjattan said that a point could be made about the loss of some support from workers of those estates, a reaction he feels was inevitable regardless of which government was in power.

‘In the sugar industry we had to make a decision on sugar. You can’t bail out sugar all the time and we know that it is going to be unpopular among some but we supported our partner APNU and as a government we had to make that decision. When you lose support because of making the right decision we haven’t lost credibility but might lose out because some people might get angry because they will lose their jobs and so forth but that is to be expected”.

But he believes that Ramkarran’s calling for the giving up of government posts was “foolish for him to say…That is the kind of advice he is going to give the AFC?  What are we doing wrong?” he asked.

Ramkarran’s suggestions also come in wake of the recent criticism the party has faced over its publicly stated support for President David Granger’s unilateral appointment of retired judge James Patterson as the Chairman of the Guyana Elections Commission (Gecom).

Some of that criticism has come from within the party itself, as evidenced by recent leaked emails, which show that some party executives believe that the party’s support for the controversial decision has made it look weak and will likely result in its losing supporters. In particular, Chairman of the AFC’s United States Chapter Dr Rohan Somar noted, “Given the worsening racial polarisation in Guyana, this unilateral appointment by the Executive PNC President of an Afro Guyanese Gecom Chairman, whether right or wrong, rips open the scars of (the) PNC rigging election(s). You have just thrown red meat to the notion of “PNC rigging election” which, in my view, will cause the AFC to forever lose Indo Guyanese support at the poll.”

Somar further stated that the decision by the AFC to accept the unilateral appointment was a major strategic blunder since the situation could have provided the perfect opportunity for the party to stand its ground and “shake the foundation of the PNC dominated coalition and maintain its independence, leverage and credibility.”

In his column, Ramkarran argued that while the AFC has drawn support across the ethnic divide, it was the support from Indo-Guyanese that enabled the APNU+AFC coalition to win the 2015 elections. He added that despite this, the AFC has shown “a palpable lack of understanding” of the depth of fear of Indo-Guyanese and others that APNU will rig the next elections. “The unilateral appointment of a Chair for Gecom exacerbated that fear…,” he said, while noting that the PNC—now the PNCR, which is the main constituent of APNU—rigged elections from 1968 to 1985. “Second, the PNC by itself has never won more than 42 percent of the vote in free and fair elections. Third, the AFC has lost substantial support and its contribution to the coalition at the next elections will be very modest. Fourth, this will keep the coalition below 50 percent. Fifth, in a two-party contest, the PPP will win. The answer? Rig! The AFC’s insensitivity to this scenario and its failure to persuade, or seek to persuade, the President to adopt a different approach to the appointment of the Gecom chair, has lost it substantial credibility,” he contended.

Ramjattan said that the leaked emails cannot be used to speak for a party that has over 10,000 supporters. He called Ramkarran out for his reference to emails stating that it was fiery discussions like in the mails that happen during private meetings of all parties and Ramkarran being privy to this from his time with the PPP should know this.

“That is exactly what happens in a central committee meeting in a room at Freedom House, at least when (Cheddi) Jagan was there. We all used to be critical of positions and this and that. Isn’t that the freedom you want in an internal organization to make the arguments and probably do your cuss down and whatever else you have to do? That is frank deliberation. Now that is being leaked by some rogue elements what is that credibility lost? I don’t know about any credibility being lost,” he said.

He added “Even inside of homogenous parties they have big discussions and cuss downs and all sorts of things. I was inside the belly of the beast of that party and that is very normal. In the PPP, at the district, regional or central executive and committee’s levels, at least with Jagan that was what happened. When Jagdeo turned President he shut down all of them and what he did is shelve Ralph Ramkarran. Ralph kept his mouth shut and then he got shelved and now he talking plenty but let him talk about the PPP,” he added.

He said that his own history shows that it is for his passionate convictions of wanting better for the underprivileged and marginalized masses of Guyana that saw him being one of the successful founders of the AFC.

“At least I have formed a party and we have gotten the PPP thrown out. If he wants to be a politician he should go form a party and then know what it is,” Ramjattan asserted.

“These fellas love to talk from a distance like parrot. You know parrot telling donkey how to bat but stays up in the tree. They want to stay up in the tree and not come down to do the batting themselves. You write exactly what I say there”, he added.

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