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The PPP’s 30th Congress by Ralph Ramkarran

The twice postponed 30th Congress of the PPP will be held in Port Mourant, Corentyne, on August 2 – 4. It will provide an opportunity for the Party to seek out inspiration from the birthplace of its founder. It was in Berbice, the traditional stronghold of the PPP, that the greatest loss of votes took place and the greatest apathy among PPP supporters was detected at the 2011 elections.

Congress is the major event in Party life. The approximately 1,000 delegates and observers from all across Guyana expect that their views will be heard and taken into consideration in  determining future Party and Government policies.

The Plenary sessions of the Congress are usually set pieces with no controversy. At the Workshops members debate a wide range of issues relating to government policy and party work, ‘guided’ by a Chair who is a Party leader. The conclusions of each Workshop are reported to the plenary and are usually adopted for implementation. Little is heard of these reports after the Congress. But attempts are made to broadly capture their sentiments in decision making, although not always successfully.

A much anticipated event at the Congress is the election of 35 members of the Central Committee (“CC”). Substantial campaigning goes on, both positive and negative, and is sometimes orchestrated in favour of friends or against those out of favour. The intensity varies from Congress to Congress. All campaigning is frowned upon and frequent complaints are made.   

At the Congress in August 2008, I was voted down from between my usual 7th to 10th place to 22nd. This was highlighted in a front page story in the Stabroek News at the time. The reporter had personally witnessed the campaigning in the school compound. What is not publicly known was that at the elections for the Executive Committee a few weeks later, I was voted down from between my usual 4th or 5th place to 14th or second to last.  The centrally directed campaigns against me at the Congress for the CC and afterwards for the Executive Committee were fiercely negative and vulgar. It was the worst since that against Balram Singh Rai in the 1960s. Its objective was not merely to let the membership know that I would not be favoured as the presidential candidate but to publicly deliver a heavy dose of humiliation and demoralization. Long before the Congress there were clear indications consciously given that I would not be the candidate. But that was not enough.

When Mrs. Janet Jagan complained about the campaigning at the first CC meeting after the Congress, it was brazenly justified to silent CC members. Many of my close colleagues, friends for decades, then fell in line with the delivered ‘wisdom’ about me at the Congress. A few refused and paid the consequences. I have hesitated to use my subjective, personal, experiences for analytical purposes, lest the usual howls of ‘sour grapes’ and ‘bitterness’ detract from what I am trying to achieve by writing on this matter. My purpose is to expose the same basic methodology at work today in other forms which, unless discontinued, will further damage the Party.

It was again used against me immediately after the elections in 2011 to assert my ‘unsuitability’ for potential inclusion in the Cabinet. It was used more recently to let a comrade know his/her place. And it will be used against that comrade at the elections of the CC at the Congress to reinforce the message to the comrade and to let the membership and the public also understand that the comrade has a place but can go no further. Unless at the Congress this growing cancer is excised, the supporters and the electorate will combine to deliver a blow to the Party from which it will take years to recover, if at all. If the Party leadership is demonstrably not fair to its own leaders and schemes against them, the electorate will conclude that it cannot be fair to the citizens of Guyana and will scheme against them also.

The PPP does not need a Congress where the expected outcomes are achieved, amidst populist sloganeering, with a superficial show of unity, but simmering discontent and a collapsed organizational infrastructure below the surface. It does not need a Congress which accuses the opposition, the press and poor organization for its worst crisis in twenty years and one of the most challenging in its history. It needs a Congress which smells the coffee, sheds the Party’s negative images, democratizes, tackles corruption, renews its commitment to and restores the pride and inspiration of its members in its great mission of liberation and social justice, involves them in developing the policies of the Party and gives them free reign to frankly and freely discuss and debate where the Party went wrong in 2011, and the options of whether the Party should go forward alone or together with the opposition.   

I dare the leadership to place on the agenda of the Congress these two options for the way forward in the present political impasse and shifting electoral sentiments, take no position on it, do not privately campaign against it, and allow a full, free and balanced debate. Then take the decision by secret ballot. (www.conversationtree.gy)