Last Updated on Thursday, 21 October 2021, 10:45 by Denis Chabrol
BY GHK Lall
Since I now make a living sharing unsolicited assessments of candidates for leader of the PNC, I keep going. Dr. Richard Van-West Charles for PNC leader has a certain strength to it; I now explore what stands to his credit, while noting e hurdles he must overcome. As before, I must speak frankly, and hope that I don’t lose a friend, who is also a fellow believer.
He should have been the man in the lead, the one to beat. For Dr. Van-West Charles is the closest Guyana has to a Black aristocracy. Others may disagree, but he is PNC royalty. Given his political pedigree, there is none that comes closer, one once a darling of the flock. After all, what could trump the Burnham name? Add his stint as Minster of Health and 19 years of broad international exposure with PAHO/WHO, and the package that is Dr. Van-West Charles makes him a man to watch, a contestant of note. Though his odds are long, he could be the dark horse in this PNC the spoiler. On his own, a few years ago, he would have been a powerful contender, but time and circumstances may have passed him by. The circumstances are representative of some sobering realities; his success will depend on how he packages himself, how hard he works for the leadership position, which he could still win.
The first obstacle is what was expressed well by one RHO Corbin, who summed up matters in this jarring inelegant Creole ditty: ‘dis time nah lang time.’ The disdainful reference was to the return of Dr. Van-West Charles. In other words, his long shadow and broad bearing was not greeted with the warm embrace and fanfare characteristic of the Burnham Age. Instead of the magic of his name, the record of his lineage, and his work for party and government, Dr. Van-West Charles found himself in the unfamiliar waters of a cool PNC.
I disagree with that posture of Mr. Corbin. Dis time is lang time, and it is so for PNC (and PPP, too). In PNC quarters, the Burnham name is still held in awe. And Dr. Van-West Charles is part of the lore of that name. Though he has to be muted (strategic), if Dr. Van-West Charles plays his cards right, and cultivates the older heads still yearning for the good ole times, he could be the surprise choice-the compromise candidate-in this race for PNC leader. But he has to be a cultivated stealth operator, quietly gathering support. I think he knows how, which brings to other aspects of Dr. Van-West Charles’ candidature.
Dr. Van-West Charles has to leverage his long and wide domestic and foreign public service record: he must burnish it, and let it speak for him.
Moreover, though his venture in October 2011 into AFC territory could stain him as unreliable by PNC purists, he could brandish that as evidence of someone who looks beyond party towards the truly national. That is, join with any party, fight any foe, for what is better for Guyana. According to the SN article of October 12, 2011, publicizing his switch, he hit the hottest hot button issue in this society: that he had no interest in race- based politics. That is golden, and utilized to the hilt, it could bring returns. Because the PNC by itself (numbers) cannot succeed in a national election. Whereas there are fears about the other contenders, Dr. Van-West Charles can say I make the break, and I will be good for it, which could mean something to disgruntled fence-sitting voters.
Separately, and unfortunately, Dr. Van-West Charles is looked upon as a man with a history, which drains his candidacy. Frankly, he is burdened by some court handicaps in this increasingly competitive political horserace for PNC leader. His recent years have been speckled with incidents that are most inopportune times, and sure to haunt, probably retard his progress. They are showstoppers. The outcomes of such matters must bounce his way, since they would feature in any race, including that of PNC. A versatile political infighter, however, could convert scars to brutalities inflicted by dastardly political foes; wear proudly as proof of the mean-spiritedness of political adversaries. Then, he would be pilloried for not being enough of a ‘grassroots’ presence and worker, since he has been in and mostly out; too much of a fluid figure. My radar relays that he has an uphill struggle, since more oomph must be delivered.
In sum, he must work on refining his appeal, inspire a muscular following to be a viable contender. Another aspect of politics, which I have not mentioned before, is that political candidates must glitter with a certain coruscating rhetorical eloquence. Such has been the hallmark of successful politicians, with Burnham as king. Guyanese politicians are remarkable for their verbal dampness, when rhetorical razzle dazzle would lift. The man I write about today is fluent enough, but is on the dry, brittle side.
All of this may pass in the party, but must always be remembered that the journey does not terminate at Opposition Leader and Congress Place, but at State House in the presidency. I go there, because that is where any PNC leader has to be thinking.
This is the final destination for any political party with national ambition and vision. My initial thinking was that Dr. Van-West Charles’ authentic credentials (neither fake nor honorary), his public service record, his political heritage and mileage all make for superb testimonials. But there are those vulnerabilities referred to, which weaken his leadership run. The price could be harsh, with his own judging him the harshest, out of necessity and for sheer survival, since he would not be able to get them across the national line. That is what my own internal poll tells me waits.
The PPP is not going to spare him in a national contest. A French surgeon gave compatriots a device they transformed into a public chopping block. PPP leaders, followers, and executioners are all delighted beneficiaries of Mark Zuckerberg’s Star Chamber machinery. Dr. Van-West Charles, (and others) would get a taste of a modern-day lynch mob: Facebook. I know.
I now close this out: Dr. Richard Van West Charles should stand out with longing old guard PNC. Beyond that he is in a junkyard dogfight, and he is sure to struggle with his burdens to overcome the odds. If he plays cards right, he could prevail. A longshot is he.