Musings - Christmas, party politics

Guyana Chronicle
December 19, 1999

AT THIS season of goodwill, when believers and unbelievers of all ethnicity and faiths across the Caribbean join with the rest of the world in joyful celebrations marking the most significant birthday of any millennium, my Christmas wish is that there will be less racial hatred, bigotry, national conflicts and human suffering in every patch of the globe we call `home'.

If we could at least agree on that, amid all the confusion of politics, the excitement of shopping and gift-exchanging as we prepare for our customary, traditional way of celebrating Christmas Day, come Saturday, then we can together raise a symbolic sorrel or ginger beer toast to a better life in the new millennium.

As artists, novelists and historians grapple with their own concepts of the `historical Jesus', there will be saints and sinners, Jews and Christians, agnostics, Hindus and Muslims in this and other Caribbean lands, who will be extending the traditional `Merry Christmas' greeting.

Among them will be those who will be warmly spreading cheers or simply behaving like Scrooge, without really bothering either about the ethnicity and colour of the one whose birthday is the reason for this season, or the social status and welfare of those around them.

In our highly politicised Caribbean societies of multi-ethnic, multi-religious peoples, it is the holidays, the opportunity to again be away from the work place that really seem to matter, more than the significance of the religious festivals - Christmas, Diwali, Eid-ul-Fitr, or else! I doubt that the mood will be any different well into the new millennium.

Political Choices

The politicians and parties, irrespective of religious or ideological persuasions also become quite active at Christmas in hosting constituency parties, feting old folks and distributing hampers to the needy. At least it is a welcome break from much of the sterile politics we have to endure during the year.

In today's twin focus on Christmass and party politics, I also wish to note the difficulties some political leaders have in not knowing when it is time to step aside to make way for succession.

Last week, there was a reminder of this problem as two Caribbean Community states - Jamaica and Guyana - marked the second anniversary of electoral victories for incumbent parties and major opposition parties faced up to the challenge of determining future political leadership ahead of new national elections.

Conscious perhaps of the leadership problems former Prime Minister Edward Seaga has been experiencing within his Jamaica Labour Party, that has now lost three consecutive elections, ex-President Desmond Hoyte has recently been engaging in some political kite-flying in Guyana to test his own standing within his People's National Congress (PNC).

At 71 and a gruelling new election to be fought in 2001, Hoyte's PNC is being haunted by its own age factor propaganda that it waged against the then 77-year-old Janet Jagan at the 1997 election. It was Guyana's second free and fair election since 1968, both of which the PNC lost under Hoyte's leadership.

The age factor has been further complicated for Hoyte by the rise of Guyana's 35-year-old Finance Minister, Bharrat Jagdeo, as President and obviously the man to beat for the presidency in election 2001.

The PNC's General Council has been requested to begin the process of trying to identify "a mechanism" by which a successor "could be chosen". That is, of course, if Hoyte is willing to vacate the leadership at the party's congress by August next year, or remain to have yet another shot as the PNC's presidential candidate.

Hoyte and Seaga

The former General Secretary of the PNC, Aubrey Norton, who, like his predecessors, was an appointee of Hoyte, said last week he did not think that Hoyte would willingly give up leadership. But he is also convinced that there are a number of experienced, young and bright individuals who could provide the party with new leadership.

Across in Jamaica, Seaga last month got a very encouraging endorsement of his leadership and succeeded in getting elected Audley Shaw as a deputy leader of his choice at the JLP's special convention. It was all democratically done with Shaw defeating Pearnel Charles by a slender 12-vote margin.

But the JLP rank and file remain very much aware that the 69-year-old Seaga is faced with a formidable challenge to provide effective leadership to successfully unseat the ruling People's National Party (PNP) of Prime Minister Percival Patterson at new elections.

Unlike Hoyte, however, Seaga is sending some clear signals about his preparedness to quit as leader of the JLP, a post he has held for some 25 years.

He has already identified five possible candidates from among whom the JLP could choose his successor. Hoyte, on the other hand, continues to play for time and determine, in his own good judgement, when to go.

That timing could be very counter-productive, if not exactly disastrous for the PNC as, it has been for example, the United Workers Party (UWP) of St. Lucia.

There, for all his craftiness in more than four decades in politics, ex-Prime Minister John Compton did not know when to quit and witnessed the humiliation of his party at the 1997 general elections. He was then 72.

His virtual hand-picked successor, the then 56-year old Vaughan Lewis, was himself to become one of the UWP's electoral victims in a landslide 16-1 victory by the St Lucia Labour Party under the new and invigorating leadership of the then 46-year-old Kenny Anthony.

Out of political power, Compton was to repeat his poor political judgement when he chose to return to the leadership of the UWP on the condition of being unchallenged. Now, clearly unable to reorganise and reinvigorate the party, he has once again manoeuvred back into the UWP's leadership - guess who? - Vaughn Lewis!

Though he would not publicly admit it, this latest UWP leadership twist would be most welcomed by the leader of the SLP, Prime Minister Anthony. But more of this and other aspects of regional politics after Christmas.

Peace and love to all!

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Guyana: Land of Six Peoples