With the scheduled date of the People’s National Congress Reform (PNCR) Congress fast approaching, one candidate for the Chairmanship position has started a social media campaign to help boost his chances of winning.
From all indications, Minister of State and party executive member, Joseph Harmon who is considered the underdog, is trying everything possible to persuade party members to cast their votes in his favour. Recently the Facebook page “HarmonForChairman” was created and up to last Friday, it had garnered over 1000 likes and a similar number of followers. Additionally at least one flyer being circulated is promoting Harmon for the position and whenever the opportunity arises he is visiting communities mainly in Georgetown and in Region Three. His most recent public announcement pertained to the Demerara Harbour Bridge – crucial to Region Three – when he said he would lobby for its retention event after a new bridge is built. Harmon announced his candidature on May 21 via a press release and a short video. He will be running against Minister of Legal Affairs and Attorney General Basil Williams who is the current chairman and the party’s First Vice-Chairperson Volda Lawrence. Williams has held the post for two terms. Lawrence declared her candidacy over the weekend.
Party insiders indicate that Harmon has his work cut out for him given that Williams and Lawrence are more well-known and liked and each has a loyal band of followers.
One party source expressed the view that of the three, Harmon is the one who has to put his face out there. “Basil is very confident of himself. He can comfortably campaign on the ground. He doesn’t need the help of Facebook or flyers or any sort of messages anywhere. Volda too got a good following. She has the women folk behind her and don’t forget she has a lot of support in Region Four”, the source said.
On the Facebook page, there are messages about Harmon’s political career including how he contributed to the party’s campaigning efforts in the 2011 and 2015 elections as well as how he progressed since his entrance into party politics at the tender age of 14.
“Harmon’s leadership ability was evident to Founding Leader Burnham, who selected him, among others, to pioneer the relationship between Guyana and China, among other things. #BelieveInHarmon”, one of the Facebook posts read.
In some of the other posts, he made commitments to work closely with President David Granger who is the party’s leader. “As Chairman of the People’s National Congress (PNC) party, I will work closely with the leader HE. President David Granger, when it comes to his vision for the members and stakeholders of the party”, one of the posts said.
“Vote for leadership, service, loyalty and commitment. Vote for an excellent PNCR Chairman. Vote Joseph Harmon”, a flyer which was seen by Stabroek News reads.
Harmon in making the candidate announcement began by describing the PNCR as an “extremely” democratic party, while noting that at the biennial congress slated for some time in August 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.
Some party insiders while giving Harmon an `A’ grade for his social media campaign, expressed disagreement with the PR strategy he is using on the ground. They believe that him focusing so much on Region Three where he was born and bred, may not be such a good strategy given that it is not as big as Region 4. “Region Four is big, so if you can win big here then you got a good chance of getting the Chairmanship. That should be Joe’s main focus if he is to win this thing”, one source said while pointing out that Harmon can gain the upper hand if he associates himself with the more prominent members of the party. “Joe don’t have the right people for his campaign…He needs to surround himself with people who got good track record”, another party insider noted.
It was noted that besides Region Three, Harmon has no other big following.
Senior party officials have indicated that Williams has some following in Bartica from where he originates and Region Ten while Lawrence’s stronghold is Region Four , women as well as to some extent Region Three.
Insiders say that if Lawrence was to withdraw from the equation, Harmon will be in difficulties. “He is not too known although he is the Minister of State. He has only been the minister for three years and that is as far as it goes. Basil deh bout long and he is known for helping people”, a party insider says.
Party insiders described Lawrence as a “powerful ice breaker and a pace setter”. It was explained that like Williams she has an excellent chance of winning.
Aside from being the First Vice-Chairperson, Lawrence who hold the Public Health Minister portfolio in government, is the National Chairman of the National Congress of Women (NCW), the women’s arm of the PNCR.
One insider said that to win, one has to look at winning the hearts of party supporters. “It’s the women you gotta look at. The party is made up of more women than men”, he said adding that Lawrence has good standing in this grouping particularly given that she heads the women’s arm. “The old heads will not shoot down Volda for Joe”, one party insider insisted.
Party groups will choose the candidates from a list provided by the party’s secretariat. Persons are placed on the list after nomination and acceptance of such. On the day of congress all party members in good financial standing will cast their vote for the candidate of their choice.
Political analyst Dr. David Hinds has said that the imminent 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 had told this newspaper in an interview hours after Harmon made his candidacy announcement.
Hinds had agreed that Harmon’s challenge to Williams is good for internal party democracy before pointing out that ultimately, the race for these offices are usually popularity contests, rather than what the candidate would do to enhance the party.
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 had said
He had indicated that 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 had 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 had stressed.