With his election as General Secretary (GS) of the PPP on Saturday, Bharrat Jagdeo has now been formally installed as both the PPP and parliamentary opposition supremo. The vote, according to a PPP statement was by secret ballot and the only challenger was Dr Frank Anthony. The vote by secret ballot is quite interesting considering that when the party was preparing to choose a presidential candidate in 2011 there had been a deep division over whether there would be a secret ballot or open voting. The move against a secret ballot had been thought to have been spearheaded by Mr Jagdeo himself as a means of ensuring the election of the candidate he favoured, former President, Donald Ramotar who was eventually acclaimed when three other candidates, including former Speaker of the National Assembly, Ralph Ramkarran withdrew.
By virtue of holding the top position in the PPP for the first time, Mr Jagdeo is now formally in charge of Freedom House and the party’s Central Committee. Former GS, Mr Rohee had little chance of retaining the post once Mr Jagdeo was in play. The Jaganite PPP is clearly on the wane and Mr Jagdeo will imprint his brand on the party even if it is unclear what exactly that is in ideological and political terms. He did drop a broad hint when he stated at the opening of the Essequibo Congress that the party had to move away from the ‘isms’.
While serving as President for 12 years, Mr Jagdeo had little interest in PPP politics as he knew that the presidency allowed him full control of the levers of power and Freedom House was a mere observer of the drama. This changed when he prepared to demit office in 2011 and wanted to influence the selection of the PPP/C candidate in a bid to preserve his legacy and the sprawling business empire that had sprung up via his cronies.
His manoeuvring to get Mr Ramotar nominated and elected into executive power – if even without a majority in Parliament – left Mr Jagdeo constantly having to fend off claims that he was the real power behind the throne. With the Ramotar administration having to call early elections in 2015 as it faced the prospect of losing a no-confidence vote in Parliament, Mr Jagdeo apprehended the grave danger posed to his interest and the PPP as a result of APNU and the AFC joining forces. The PPP was in no position to change its presidential candidate midstream so Mr Jagdeo embarked on the most frenetic, divisive, inflammatory and race-based campaign in recent times and brought the party to within a hair’s breadth of a win but lost the big prizes – the Presidency and Parliament.
With no influence now on the executive and facing a string of potentially damaging investigations about the Pradoville housing scheme and others where there is a risk of charges, Mr Jagdeo set about to inhabit new poles of power which he had previously ignored. He entered Parliament and was duly elected Leader of the Opposition. He then took aim at the all-important post of General Secretary which he had previously not held and has now easily secured it. That must be testimony as to how he has been able to mould the Central Committee to his liking.
Mr Jagdeo however faces an uphill challenge if he wants to be more than the leader of the converted. He is a deeply divisive figure. As much as he is heralded in his party among the grassroots, in the other half of this country there are intense misgivings about his commitment to good governance and transparency and rooting out of cronyism and corruption. His twelve years at the helm particularly the last five have left many unanswered questions which may yet reveal disturbing developments. The rise of killer squads during his period as President and the activities of the now imprisoned drug lord, Roger Khan stand out as serious blots on his record. Yet, as Leader of the Opposition he must reach out to all segments of society.
While Mr Jagdeo now has a broad horizon to prosecute the Opposition’s case in Parliament and to try to make the APNU+AFC government accountable his tenure faces two existential challenges. The first is whether he faces any legal jeopardy as a result of the Pradoville probe and any others that might follow. That could prove potentially troublesome for him as leader of the party and the party itself would also have to take a decision. The other dilemma for Mr Jagdeo and his party would be whether the proscription against him running for another term in office is upheld by the appeals court. Hearing of this matter is expected to begin this week and if the presidential term limits is eventually upheld then the PPP would face the quandary of having a leader who was not an eligible presidential candidate and would then have to begin anew the tricky process to identify a candidate for the 2020 general and regional elections.
Mr Jagdeo’s election has also formally established him and President Granger as the two foremost political figures who by virtue of their various titles are now obliged to engage with each other. Mr Jagdeo is now the leader of the party at Freedom House and in Parliament. President Granger is also the leader of the PNCR and the main partner in the governing coalition, APNU. While there have been a few feints at dialogue between them since APNU+AFC acceded to office there has been no substantial development and no major meeting between the two leaders outside of perfunctory constitutional engagements. The time is now propitious for these two leaders to establish regular dialogue on matters such as security, the Venezuela border controversy, the oil and gas industry, constitutional reform and easing political tensions around issues such as the Red House lease. This would be a healthy development in the political culture and will bring some relief to citizens wearied by the various troubles that beset them.