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Can the PPP be saved?

by Ralph Ramkarran (reproduced from www.conversationtree.gy )

The end of the Jagan leadership of the PPP terminated the era of real, as opposed to formal, internal democracy. Its structure and leadership model, third world and Leninist influenced, lent itself to authoritarian methods. But the Jagans ensured full discussions and neither dictated conclusions. Both changed their views from time to time after being persuaded by contrary opinion in discussions.

The symbol of that openness was that after a debate where opinion was divided, a vote was taken. However, after the Jagdeo leadership gained traction, voting after discussions ceased at his instance. Jagdeo summed up all discussions and the summing up, containing his views, was the decision. He still does so. Elections at and after Congress began to be grossly manipulated. Both Donald Ramotar and Bharrat Jagdeo publicly opposed the 2011 presidential candidate being elected by secret ballot.

Broad discussions continue to take place on matters of political strategy. But members of the leadership instinctively know how far to go. For example, no discussion has taken place on a coalition government because the leadership clique was opposed to it. Dissenting opinions on major issues in which Jagdeo has an interest were so frowned upon that there is a large dose of self-censorship. Anyone who attempted to raise a matter of consequence, such as corruption or the supply of drugs, risked incurring Jagdeo’s wrath. That was something to be feared, as he was their employer.

All leaders of the PPP still defer to Bharrat Jagdeo. No one questions his analyses and none would dare raise his domineering role in government, in the party or in the election campaign. His lead role in the campaign, which is privately criticized by most PPP leaders, as it was in 2011, signals his return to the hustings after a hiatus over the past three years during which he was busy assisting in the affairs of State and enjoying the perks of retirement and international travel. Not having any more state responsibilities, only Freedom House and Parliament Building, if he becomes an MP, and the dock at the Whim Magistrates’ Court will now accommodate him.

His current activism is also propelled by his compelling addiction to the limelight, enthusiasm for which appears to be temporarily displaced by Whim, his belief in his own genius and dissatisfaction with the performance of Donald Ramotar. In the meantime, Donald Ramotar has never made good on his private pre-2011 election promise to many who had raised concerns about Jagdeo’s attitude and behavior that ‘things will change’ after elections. Probably realizing subsequently that he needs Jagdeo’s help, he has allowed the latter’s power to remain intact.

Jagdeo is not one to sit on the sidelines. If he returns to Parliament, even if he does not become Opposition Leader, it would be a signal that his political ascendancy in the PPP is assured. Thereafter it would only be a matter of time before he eases out Ramotar and Rohee, who are both in their mid 60s, ‘old’ in Jagdeo’s eyes, while he is in his early 50s. Even if he is not in Parliament, his toxicity notwithstanding, his tenure will continue, being seen now as the main Indian ethnic leader of a Party that has lost its political and moral compass.

There is talk of bringing in young faces. But what of those introduced in 2006 – Robert Persaud, Frank Anthony, Priya Manickchand, Ashni Singh, Irfan Ali and Anil Nandlall? Of more recent vintage are Colin Croal, Nigel Dharamlall, Shaym Nokta. Did they not perform? Or are the new young people going to replace the ‘old’ people, a category of citizen that Jagdeo continually reviles? If so, shouldn’t Ramotar, Rohee, Teixiera and Luncheon, even Jagdeo, be among those to be replaced? Resignation, regardless of age, is what happens when you lose elections. Ed Milliband, the Labour leader, who just lost the UK elections, is 46 and he has resigned.

The PPP’s only hope is that the APNU+AFC coalition fails the people and lose their slim lead. But with APNU+AFC’s knowledge of what not to do, constitutional reform, efforts to implement its other electoral promises and going after the Amerindian vote, the possibility of the PPP returning to political office in the near future, under a leadership and policies which have failed twice, looks bleak. Attrition of the same young people, who have livelihood and family responsibilities, and who will face the impotency of the PPP’s current postures, will also eventually take its toll.

The PPP can now only be saved by external pressure. There is, and unlikely to be, any internal movement for reform because of the stranglehold on the leadership described above. It is, therefore, now incumbent on the many members and former members of the PPP who have become disaffected or displaced, who have been forced into inactivity, but who disagree and agonize over the path taken by the PPP and wish to see reforms, to establish a new political party devoted to the ideals of Cheddi Jagan. Such a Party will aim primarily at winning over supporters of PPP and gaining seats in the National Assembly at the next elections. The objective is to deprive the PPP of the possibility of gaining an absolute majority. This will provide leverage for reforms to restore policies of ‘winner does not take all,’ shared governance by way of coalition arrangements, a political solution to Guyana’s problems and national unity.