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OPINION: Aubrey Norton has what it takes for PNC leader; beyond that, the waters get muddy

Last Updated on Thursday, 14 October 2021, 20:46 by Denis Chabrol

BY GHK LALL

Aubrey Norton has done more than thrown his hat into the ring for PNC leader.  He has been selling himself as the man to lead comrades and party out of the political wilderness in which it has been mired, for over a year now, if not since that fateful successful ‘no confidence’ motion in December 2018.  From my perspective, he has more than signaled his intentions and sold himself, he is the frontrunner for that coveted leadership position of the PNC.

Mr. Norton, whom I have never met, has several positives going for him.  Regrettably, there are some significant negatives, too, real and perceived, that weigh heavily against his successful candidacy.  He is a tried and trusted man of the party, having been around it, for it, and of it, since day the 1970s, which alone is worth its weight in gold, can’t be beat.  Also, Mr. Norton’s tenure in the Foreign Service should have given him priceless insights on the culture of the international community, and the studied diplomacy that is so much a part and parcel of that group.  It does not hurt that his stint as a Foreign Service Officer gives him (or should have) a cosmopolitan flair.  I have my doubts, as to how much he has absorbed, or intends to practice in the patient and urbane etiquette of that top hatted and frocked community.

Moreover, what has been a showstopper for others before, does not apply to Mr. Norton.   He is Afro-Guyanese to the core, and with that there can be no substantial pushback.  In a party as Afro-centric as the PNC, Mr. Norton looks unbeatable, and this takes on extraordinary muscle, when the current crop of leaders is taken into account.  To put in polite terms, there is dismay and disenchantment with both former President David Granger, and to an even worse degree with incumbent Leader of the Opposition, Mr. Joseph Harmon.  In both instances identified, the disgruntlement is severe.  Also, I mention Leader of the Opposition at this early stage, because that is where and what the Leader of the PNC almost automatically leads to, and escalates.

I think, as a rank outsider, one who can be unprejudiced by emotions and passions, that Mr. Norton has emerged from the pack of contenders and has transformed himself into the man who can’t be stopped, because he is the one who has what it takes to stir the faithful from the stagnant state into which party and people have fallen.  He says the hard things, the emotionally inspiring things, the psychologically appealing ones, that resonate within large sections of the PNC, which feel that the party leadership has been too passive, and the party itself too torn by internal dissension and malaise.  In a nutshell, I don’t think that Mr. Norton has any bona fide competition in the race for PNC leadership.  In a fair contest, he could rise all the way to be headman.

It is on this note, and at this point, that I think it is appropriate to speak to the negatives that accompany Mr. Norton, makes him come across as man more to be feared, than one garnering the wide and deep respect, that is owed to a national leader.  While he may be the man most likely to succeed to the top of the PNC, the very features that power Mr. Norton’s candidacy are what I dare to say are his Achilles heels.  My use of the plural ‘heels’ ought not to be given short thrift, since I believe that such is relevant.  To be candid, Mr. Norton comes over as too much of an Africanist for his own good, not so much as potential leader for the PNC, but for wider, diverse, and very polarized Guyana.

To too many Indians, most likely others also, Mr. Norton as a person and possible national political leader comes across, as one very much in the mold of one of those notorious African dictators of old.  He may think he is possessing of Foreign Service suavity, but there is the picture of him that Indians can’t shake; or will refuse to dispel.  I would add that his recent rhetoric both here and abroad has not helped his cause in the wider local environment.  It may be unfair to the man and candidate, but the political prejudices of this society can be bitter and unsparing, with neither principle nor honor of much utility, as I had cause to find out just recently.  I think he is going to have his work cut out for him to allay fears to win the cross-sectional support that he needs to ascend to the top of the national leadership pile.  Regardless, Mr. Norton will be subject to the worse of the naked passions in the heats of elections hustings, his specter will be used to drive fears-possibly misplaced, but definitely exploited-to reduce any national leadership aspirations to continuing second place.  Now when national leadership visions are thwarted, this means that his party’s governmental visions suffer, and just because he is the man at the helm.

Further, when personal aspirations and party visions collide with unmoving roadblocks, temperateness and restraints are the first things sacrificed.  Come to think of it, this is what candidate is believed to represent deep inside.  At least, this is the perception from the outside of the PNC.  In view of this admittedly limited sketch of Mr. Norton and the probability of his accession to the leadership of the PNC, I am uncertain as to whether PNC comrades are ready to run these risks, they are big ones.  It should also be noticed that I have not said anything about the possible temperature and reception of the United States (forget about the rest of the alphabet) to a possible Aubrey Norton led PNC.  It is but a short step to that of Opposition Leader, and from there, a bigger one to the ultimate, meaning, leader of Guyana.  In Mr. Norton’s favor, I would say this: if the United States and the international community can manage Dr. Irfaan Ali, Guyana’s President, with a straight face and an iron stomach, then Mr. Norton should have less trouble than I anticipate, find more tolerance.

All this being said, I close here: Mr. Aubrey Norton’s candidacy for leader of the PNC is one to watch and one on which to bet.  My money is on him to emerge as the victor.  From there, the rest is up in the air, and things could get rather unsteady.