Charles Ramson (Jr) recently announced that he would seek the PPP’s nomination to be its presidential candidate for the 2020 general elections. That’s not the way it’s done, admonished General Secretary Bharrat Jagdeo. At the appropriate time, the party will have a discussion on the matter and the candidate will emerge, he explained.
Ramson’s announcement was made immediately after the CCJ ruled that the two-term presidential limit did not violate Guyana’s constitution, thereby ruling out former president Mr. Bharrat Jagdeo for a third term, for which the PPP would have nominated him. Mr. Ramson clearly wanted his name to be placed among those under consideration before an anointment is made. He joins (in alphabetical order), Irfaan Ali, Frank Anthony and Anil Nandlall, who have been identified by observers as being the persons from whom a ‘choice’ will be made. While no one has yet emerged as a ‘front runner,’ it could well be that one among the three has already been identified. If this is so, then Ramson may possibly have been seen as an intruder, prematurely disrupting what might have been a carefully orchestrated selection process.
Memories are short. In 2011, the candidate did emerge from internal discussions. But Donald Ramotar and I had long before publicly announced our candidacies. Later, Clement Rohee and Gail Teixeira announced theirs. There were interviews, press reports, speculation and subtle campaigning. We were not criticized because everyone knew that this was, apart from my efforts, a fake campaign. The candidate was already anointed and the choice was a foregone conclusion.
The PPP has no special rules for the selection of a presidential candidate. It has decision-making rules under which the executive committee of 15 recommends and the central committee of 35 decides. The latter invariably follows the ‘recommendation’ of the former. These rules apply in the selection of presidential candidates. The rules are archaic and have long outlived their usefulness. In this era of liberal democracy, the public would like to see and hear the candidates before one is selected by the party, especially having regard to the powerful position the president holds under the constitution. And the selection process for all parties in Guyana, not only for presidential candidates but also for officials, should be determined by members.
Supporters are becoming wary of candidates being foisted upon them with barely a nod to the application of democratic principles. I had to make a public appeal for a secret ballot for the election of the candidate in 2011, which former presidents Bharrat Jagdeo and Donald Ramotar publicly opposed. The executive committee members were made to state their preferences openly. They unanimously supported Donald Ramotar. This time around it may not be so easy and both the executive committee and central committee might be forced into secret ballots.
There is now a sense that both the public and the party are beginning to frown on secrecy and anointment. They would like to see candidates engage in public debates. Far from such debates being divisive, they enable the candidates to present themselves, their credentials, their policies and their visions. A debate, and a choice being subsequently made in a democratic and transparent manner, result in the enhanced acceptability of the candidate to the whole party and the public. Mobilization by a party behind such a democratic choice is then easier to accomplish. It is not a surprise that in both 2011 and 2015, the PPP complained that its supporters did not turn out to vote in their numbers. The anointment of the candidate, prior to the official selection by the party, may well have had a negative effect on mobilization of supporters.
The public does not know whether the same process as in 2011 is likely to be played out again by the PPP. It certainly seems as if the intention is that this should happen. But the PPP is no longer in power and the capacity of a dominant leader, or a section of the leadership, to ‘persuade’ members to accept a designated candidate may have diminished now that the party is out of power. Even in 2006 – 2011, with clear presidential support, efforts at self-promotion by Robert Persaud had to be abandoned because even presidential power could not guarantee party support which, it was realized, would not be forthcoming.
Much emphasis has been placed on encouraging ‘young’ leaders. As Mr. Ramson told the PPP, if it is inviting young people to join and play leadership roles, it must be prepared to accept that young people also have different ideas of how things should be done. It appears that for Mr. Ramson, public debate by candidates and an open election process, by secret ballot, would be the preferred methods.
Mr. Ramson brings fresh air into the musty decision-making corridors of the PPP. He has brought focus on the PPP’s method of selecting its presidential candidate. He has issued a challenge about the way in which things are being done. He has paved the way for himself and those who come after him to speak publicly about their ambitions and hopes for Guyana and for an open election process by party members. His public announcement is also a reminder that in 1999, the PPP gave a 35-year old member a chance. In 2020, Ramson will be 37.