With Minister of State Joseph Harmon declaring his candidacy for the post of People’s National Congress Reform (PNCR) Chairman at its upcoming biennial congress, political analyst Dr. David Hinds says that the expected contest would likely signal which support base holds sway over the party.
“…Harmon would have a bigger challenge since he is not a traditional party member—
he has not come up through the party ranks. But it could also tell us which wing of the party holds sway—the traditional wing, which I think will go for [current Chairman Basil] Williams or the newer ex-army and APNU types, which I think will favour Harmon. This makes it a fascinating race,” Hinds told Stabroek News hours after Harmon publicly announced his intention to run for the post.
Harmon, who is a PNCR executive, is the current Chairman of the governing coalition partner APNU, of which the PNCR is the largest constituent.
Harmon’s potential challenge is seen as politically significant given that Williams, the current Attorney-General, has been holding the post for two terms. Party sources have told this newspaper that another executive member, Minister of Public Health Volda Lawrence, will also be vying for the post.
The Chairman is the most senior party official after the Leader. President David Granger is currently party leader.
Harmon, in a press statement which was followed by a video, announced his candidature yesterday.
He began by describing the PNCR as an “extremely” democratic party, while noting that at the biennial congress all positions of leadership from leader right up to the Central Executives are voted for.
“That is the democracy, which we practice. So every member of the Party can aspire to the highest office in our party and like many others, I am a member of the Party of longstanding and therefore have indicated that it is my desire and my interest in putting myself up as a candidate for the Chairmanship of the Party,” he said in the brief statement.
Speaking to this newspaper, Hinds agreed that Harmon’s challenge to Williams is good for internal party democracy before pointing out that ultimately, the race for these lower offices are usually popularity contests, rather than what the candidate would do to enhance the party.
Hinds noted that a factor in this race would be which candidate Granger overtly or covertly supports. “I don’t think Mr. Granger has the same kind of overarching influence in the preference, [which] would be pivotal,” he said.
According to Hinds, the other consideration would be the party machinery. “Usually, the outcome of those intra party elections are heavily influenced by the support of the machinery. Here, Williams may have the edge—he is a party man. But Harmon has been quietly doing outreaches in the communities, which could have some influence on the eventual outcome,” he said
He said his interactions with both men have revealed that neither is very ideological. “One is a political animal and your quintessential party man, who is also very driven. The other is more pragmatic and might be more appealing beyond the confines of the party,” he said.
Hinds noted that the outcome could tell something about the thinking of the party’s “rank and file” on the role of the PNCR in the new politics.
“[Robert] Corbin’s legacy is that he moved the party from a tribalist mentality to a more pragmatic outlook which eventually allowed them to regain the seat of power. I, therefore, think this race could well be a referendum on Corbin’s legacy—a fight between the pre-APNU PNC and the post APNU PNC,” he stressed.
A party source said that Harmon’s entrance into the race was a long time in the making. Calling it a “good move,” the source explained that despite Williams being in the “trenches,” Harmon in recent times has been rising in popularity. “I think he stands a good chance. He is more a grassroots man …than Basil,” the source said, while adding that the conclusion made by observers that whoever wins the Chairmanship can be the APNU’s 2020 presidential candidate may have some merit. “Remember, everyone wants to aspire to be president and there is a good chance that whoever wins the Chairman-ship may be next in line,” the source noted.
Williams, when contacted, declined to comment on Harmon’s announcement, saying that it pertained to internal matters and “it is a mistake to go public…It is the PNC’s business.” In April, he had signaled the likelihood that he would run for the post of Chairman again if nominated.
Harmon, meanwhile, was unavailable for comment. His announcement came days after the party held its second General Council Meeting for the year and while Granger is abroad.