By David Hinds
First, I am not surprised that Mr. Irfan Ali won by such a wide margin. He was clearly the choice of the PPP’s maximum leader, and the leader’s preference on such matters holds sway with many in the party’s leadership.
Second, Ali’s selection indicates very clearly that should the PPP win the election, it will continue the Jagdeo agenda that was interrupted when the party lost power in 2015. I am less concerned about Jagdeo’s presence in a potential PPP government and more concerned about the Jagdeo agenda of ethnic dominance and the criminalized state. In effect, I see an Ali presidency as a Jagdeo fourth term.
This I think should be cause for concern for all those who would like to see a Guyana that is ethnically inclusive and a state that is untied from the bad influences of the past. Neither Mr. Jagdeo, the PPP or Mr. Ali has repudiated the Jagdeo agenda or has put forward a new agenda.
Third, given his close ties to the Jagdeo agenda, Ali is in effect the best candidate for that section of the PPP’s base that supports that agenda. He is more likely to galvanize that section more than the candidates he defeated. Fourth, whatever his negatives—and there are two that have been in the news—I don’t think those would negatively affect his candidacy among the PPP’s wider base. Those voters to my mind have already made up their minds about their choice between the PNC-led coalition and the PPP.
Fifth, would his negatives make him an easier candidate to defeat? Certainly, he would be easier to beat in the African-Guyanese community. But would those negatives turn off independent Indian-Guyanese voters? In other words, would the Coalition be able to exploit his negatives among independents? Such a strategy could be risky for the coalition, since the PPP would be sure to retaliate by highlighting the negatives of top Coalition leaders. Whether the Coalition could withstand that kind of scrutiny is left to be seen. The PPP, for example, is sure to exploit to the fullest Minister Lawrence’s unfortunate statements on party clientelism.
In any case, I don’t think many hardcore supporters would pay much attention to whether Ali’s degrees are in order or whether he was charged with overseeing the misappropriation of government funds. In fact, I am very sure the PPP would be going after Coalition ministers for misappropriation of government funds whether it’s true or not. So, if I were the Coalition, I would be highlighting more Ali’s fidelity to the Jagdeo agenda in my pitch to independent Indian-Guyanese voters largely because it was that agenda that drove them to the AFC and the Coalition in 2011 and 2015. Of course, the Coalition, particularly the AFC and other independent supporters, would have to make the case to those Indian-Guyanese that their concerns and interests would be better represented by a second Coalition government.
Sixth, is Ali’s relative youth an asset? I am not so sure. As I indicated above, if he is tied to the old agenda then his youthfulness matters very little, if any. As we saw in the case of Mr. Jagdeo who was much younger when he took charge, there is no magic in being a youth—it does not necessarily translate into progressive leadership. Despite his cabinet and parliamentary experience, Mr. Ali has not articulated an agenda and a vision beyond the Jagdeo agenda.
Seventh, it is interesting to note that the PPP, contrary to popular wisdom, has chosen a Muslim as its standard bearer. This can be read as a positive development for the party in that it is reflective of a noble step towards inclusion. However, it could also be read as a submerging of religious contradictions in favor of the ethno-political imperatives.
Finally, it would be interesting to know who voted against Ali. One is tempted to think it is the old-guard, although Anil Nandlall is not a member of that faction. My sense is that the old guard would have favored Frank Anthony, but in the end, I think he was not seen as grounded in the Jagdeo agenda. Hence his inability to garner a majority.