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Volda Lawrence’s remarks unhelpful to coalition winning the 2020 general elections- political scientists

PNCR Chairwoman, Volda Lawrence addressing the Region Four conference on Sunday, November 25, 2018.

Chairman of the People’s National Congress Reform, Volda Lawrence’s recently stated preference for giving jobs to her party’s supporters seemed a feeble response to its defeat at last month’s local government elections due to its own neglect of its Afro-Guyanese support base, but now the coalition risks losing the 2020 general elections as a result of her utterance.

“As reassuring as the Minister’s rhetoric is may be to some PNC diehards, it is unhelpful to the electoral
success of the partnership and coalition. It does not give comfort to independent African Guyanese,
Amerindians and Indian Guyanese,” Political Science Professor, David Hinds told Demerara Waves Online News.

With the PNCR tallying 34 percent in the 2018 local government elections in contrast to 51 percent at the 2015 general elections, though turnouts at local polls are usually lower, Hinds stressed it was clear the PNCR could not win an election on its own and need the small political parties.

Political Scientist, Freddie Kissoon shared Hinds’ view, and said there was nothing positive about Lawrence’s remarks even if she was seeking to motivate PNCR’s supporters to vote in 2020 by ensuring they would not be neglected. “I don’t see that as an advantage or a plus. You don’t need to tell your supporters for them to come out. Even if you tell them that, they wouldn’t come out…You don’t have to say those things to galvanise people and when you don’t perform, you don’t get re-elected. The thing is that even if that is an advantage, the disadvantage outweighs by millions of miles,” Kissoon told Demerara Waves Online News.

He recommended that Lawrence considers an exit strategy from her offensive comments by saying those were “off-the-cuff remarks, they are not Freudian, they are not instinctive and I am not that kind of person”.  Failing to do so, he said Guyana would be in “deep, deep trouble”. Already, he forecast that “it is very difficult for the PNC-AFC coalition to get 51 percent in an election” because Lawrence’s remarks have eroded three or four percent from Amerindians, Mixed race and the middle class. “What she said now could seriously drive a wedge in that kind of embrace and that kind of thinking. The statement is extremely disastrous,” Kissoon added.

“I am not sure an apology would help. I think the damage has been done to say  things they come to regret for the balance of their life,” he said.

Professor Hinds contended that the PNCR forced the Alliance For Change (AFC) to contest the November 12 local government election to test its electoral strength has backfired because the bigger party has clearly demonstrated that it could not win an election on its own. That, according to Hinds, was compounded by central government’s failure to satisfy the real needs of its mainly Afro-Guyanese supporters such as reversing years of alleged discrimination in economic opportunities by the then People’s Progressive Party (PPP) administration.

Hinds charged that the PNCR Chairman’s utterance to delegates at the Region Four District Conference shows that that party resorted to race-based instincts instead of structured courses of action to improve the PNCR supporters and Guyanese overall standard of living. “She is responding to that embarrassing defeat which they have admitted is largely the result of neglecting their base of mainly African Guyanese poor people and working class. So, she is speaking to that base.

But in the absence of real policy initiatives to pitch to that group, she has to resort to crude clientelism. I read her “PNC friends” to mean African Guyanese. She is a political operative and knows what she is saying. But because the contemporary PNC leadership has never mastered the art of creatively addressing our ethno-racial problem, they have to fall back on this crude narrative that borders on party-racial clientelism,” said Hinds who is also a well-known executive member of the Working People’s Alliance (WPA).

Hinds said while Lawrence was addressing a fundamental problem in Guyana’s political economy, the coalition did “absolutely nothing” since coming to power in 2015 to address institutionalized ethno-racial imbalance in procurement, in employment in critical high salaried sectors, in housing and in management of other key socio-economic sectors.  “The coalition government comes to power and did absolutely nothing policy-wise to address that imbalance. In fact, in sectors such as the public service, education, small business and the armed forces, they did everything to frustrate increase in wages and opportunities. A living-wage policy would have gone a long way towards correcting that imbalance. A small business policy whereby small business people including vendors have access to capital would have had the same outcome,” he added.

Political Scientist Kissoon said  Lawrence’s comments would alienate the middle class, who believed the PNCR has changed over the years. He noted that if any PPP leader had uttered similar sentiments, such as late President Cheddi Jagan’s remarks that Blacks were at the bottom of the ladder, that person would have been condemned harshly. “What she said is what any society should condemn and the outpouring would have been instantaneous if any PPP leader/president had said that,” he said. Kissoon said Lawrence’s were equal to the PPP having told  its supporters that if the PNC had won an election, people would rape and rob East Indo-Guyanese.

Kissoon said the PNCR Chairman’s remarks would now call into question whether people would be considered favourably for jobs and contracts based on their abilities, qualifications and experience. “One has to question whether people will continue to think that the meritocracy criterion is what will get them a job,” he said. “In the final analysis, those are things no minister in any multiracial country should say. The consequences and implications are sad and disastrous,” he said

The PNCR Chairman has since issued a statement on the controversy, saying that she abides by her remarks to the Region Four Council. However, she has not dealt with the section that has sparked off a controversy.

Lawrence has chided those who are responsible for not awarding cleansing contracts to PNCR members or hiring PNCR members as if they were still in opposition and afraid of doing so. She has made it clear that her priority is to give jobs to her friends who are evidently party supporters. “The only friends I got is PNC so the only people I gon give wuk to is PNC and right now I looking for a doctor who can talk Spanish or Portuguese and ah want one that is PNC,”