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Ambassador Harper- a competent woman of integrity but not a vote-getter— analysts

Education Minister, Priya Manickchand and PPPC Prime Ministerial candidate, Ambassador Elisabeth Harper.

Just hours after the People’s Progressive Party Civic (PPPC) began playing up the significance of a competent, honest woman as its Prime Ministerial candidate, two political analysts do not believe Ambassador Elisabeth Harper will bring much votes to the incumbent party against a combined opposition in the May 11, 2015 general and regional elections.

“I don’t think she will contribute any votes to the PPP. I think she brings value in terms of atmosphere and aesthetics. I mean she is a nice lady, she has been competent in what she is doing,” said former PPPC government minister, Dr. Henry Jeffrey.

He described the Director General of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as a loyalist, who has secured the confidence of the PPPC-led administration for more than 20 years, but she was not expected to bring any more votes than outgoing Prime Minister Samuel Hinds.

Asked whether he forecast that Harper,57,  would motivate Afro-Guyanese, the support base of A Partnership for National Unity (APNU), to vote for the PPPC or stay away from the polls altogether, Jeffrey said that was almost impossible because that segment of the population generally wants the PPPC out of office. “I don’t think she will have any effect whatsoever.  For the ordinary Black person, middle class or not, the PPP is a structural problem, the PPP in their view is an Indian party which should be expected to and it does discriminate so you have to get rid of the PPP…In the Black person’s mind they can’t change, it’s a racist party as far as they are concerned and that is why they have to go,” he said.

Political Scientist, Freddie Kissoon’s assessment is that the PPP opted to choose Harper, a career diplomat, without any party political experience and exposure because they could not have found any known PPP-Civic faces that are uncontroversial.

“If you go down the line, you would see that there are faces so emblazoned on the PPP’s Cup (its symbol) yet they were not chosen because they wanted a non-controversial person, they wanted someone without baggage because they feel that as a party that is very unpopular, a fresh face would be least likely to be savaged on the campaign trail. I think that is the essential reason why Harper was chosen,” Kissoon told Demerara Waves Online News.

He explained that her prime ministerial candidacy points to a lot of weaknesses in the incumbent party, resulting in a number of known faces like Education Minister Priya Manickchand and Attorney General Anil Nandlall being bypassed. He reasoned that Manickchand would not resonate positively with East Indians- who are leaving in droves for the United States- because of her feral blast on then outgoing Ambassador, Brent Hardt. Nandlall was recently embroiled in a controversy surrounding an unflattering telephone conversation with a Kaieteur News reporter.

The former University of Guyana (UG) Political Science Lecturer described Harper as an “unknown quantity” because no one is aware of her oratory and charisma to manipulate and motivate voters like late Guyanese leaders Cheddi Jagan, Forbes Burnham and Walter Rodney as well as Moses Nagamootoo and Nigel Hughes.

While Kissoon conceded that Harper is a decent, middle-class person, he did not believe that those attributes are a counterbalance to the A Partnership for National Unity-Alliance For Change (APNU-AFC) presidential candidate, David Granger, who is also perceived as middle-class.  Unlike the PPPC’s prime ministerial candidate, Kissoon said Granger is popular, having served as a Commander of the Guyana Defence Force (GDF), published several books and won the President’s Medal at the University of Guyana. “Is not any and every middle class person you could just put there and will be a counter to Granger. Granger is a nationally known and respected figure; not that Mrs. Harper isn’t but you can’t compare the two in terms of actual fame over the last thirty years,” he said.

Asked whether he thought that her profile as a woman and someone of integrity could be boost for the PPPC at the polls, he was doubtful whether those attributes could add substantially to the ruling party’s campaign. “I think it’s a factor because she comes with no baggage and, therefore, it would be very hard to criticize her on the platform but how much that would contribute to the PPP’s tally of votes is difficult to tell because you have Ramotar there who is seen as the head of an extremely corrupt government and party so whatever integrity she has- and I believe she has- it may very well be destroyed by the campaign on behalf of the PPP,” he said.

President Donald Ramotar has never denied that there is corruption and has consistently pledged that his government would take stern action based on evidence. Hardly anyone has been charged and prosecuted for large scale corruption from 1992 to today.

Kissoon does not believe that gender would be a major factor in the upcoming polls, unlike in Developed countries where women are extremely conscious and vie for positions. “I suspect they used a woman because they are looking at the woman-vote but I think in a country like this where the system is very tyrannical and authoritarian, people looking for changes are looking to put strong people that could run the next government,” he added.

Dr. Jeffrey added that integrity and gender (being a woman) do not influence Guyana’s politics in the same way that race and ethnicity do. “I don’t think she can break that and over the years, Sam Hinds might have built up some little support but coming new I don’t think she would add anything in terms of support for the PPP,” said Jeffrey.

In announcing Harper as the PPPC’s prime ministerial candidate, PPP General Secretary Clement Rohee played up the significance of her gender and integrity. “I need not emphasise the intrinsic value of the instinct of women in general and in politics in particular coupled with competency and honest endeavor to serve and undoubtedly among these attributes she will be etched for time immemorial in hearts and minds of voters come May 11,” she said.

Jeffrey- a former minister of housing, health, education and foreign trade at various times of the PPPC administration- noted that the prime ministerial position is largely ceremonial under the incumbent administration. He contended that the PPPC might seek to convince their supporters that Nagamootoo, the coalition’s prime ministerial candidate, is merely a figure-head as Granger’s number two.  “Maybe it will even help to present them with some kind of notion that that’s the kind of position that Moses has because that’s how these people think. That’s the word they would be pushing in Berbice and other places,” she said.

Harper’s selection has put to rest speculation that the ruling party’s prime ministerial candidate would have been either Foreign Affairs Minister, Carolyn Rodrigues-Birkett; Education Minister Manickchand; Public Works Minister, Robeson Benn or Junior Finance Minister, Juan Edghill.

The Preliminary List of Electors contains the names of 567,125 persons who are eligible to vote at the more than 2,260 polling stations across this 83,000 square mile country.