What is going on?

Stabroek News
March 28, 2001

We are teetering on the edge of the precipice again. There s an atmosphere that no one is in control, or that forces are in control which while not immediately identifiable have PNC associations. There were the incidents on the East Coast last week, where the Guyana Human Rights Association claimed that outside elements played an instigating role. Having said that, however, it should be noted that according to the agency the majority of villagers resisted attempts to be drawn into violent conflict, and at Plaisance protected a group of Indian construction workers.

Then we have the apparent confusion in the compound of Congress Place itself, where people have been beaten, most notoriously in the case of Mr Haslyn Parris, the PNC's own Commissioner on the Guyana Elections Commission. As reported in our Sunday edition, there are also allegations of kidnapping, with the victims being taken to the PNC's headquarters.

And then we have the sizeable crowds outside the high court, which went on a rampage on Monday on the strength of a figment of someone's malicious imagination. And yet again, we have the talk show hosts, most notably Mr Mark Benschop, with their wild talk night after night, giving the impression, whether intended or not, of playing the role of agent provocateurs. They openly convey their PNC affiliations, and in the case of Mr Benschop, can be seen with the crowd outside the high court.

To date, PNC REFORM Chairman Robert Corbin has been on the television twice, asking the party's supporters, among other things, to remain "calm." In our Sunday issue we reported him as saying that there were a number of angry people at Congress Place "who were disenfranchised." Many, he said, wanted to come and burn down the city, and that party officials had been trying to keep them within Congress Place "to exert a calming effect on them," since if they were allowed to go outside the gates, they might carry out their threats.

On the following day we published the substance of a press statement from PNC REFORM General Secretary Oscar Clarke saying that the party is seeking dialogue on governance, the rule of law and the continuation of the constitution reform process.

So what is really going on? The public is confused. Does the PNC REFORM want talks, or is it electing to follow a different path? We are getting mixed signals as to the party's position, and in the meantime, tension, confusion and uncertainty reign.

The consequence of this is doing untold damage to the image of the party. It does not matter one iota that the PNC is not openly endorsing the activities of the crowds on the streets or the violence on the East Coast, or even that it has asked for calm; insofar as it will not repudiate the perpetrators of the growing unrest, it will be perceived ultimately as being the author of that unrest.

If the PNC REFORM is in no way associated with the current protests and is indeed seeking a route of dialogue with a view to 'inclusion' at some level in government, then why is it allowing wild elements to dictate party policy by default? If the party is embarrassed by them, and is unable to rein them in, then it has only one option: it has to reject them. No one is pretending that this would be easy. It would mean a public statement that the PNC REFORM is committed to the rules of the game, and that it eschews all violence. The party would have to tell its supporters this directly, and would need to close the doors of Congress Place to those who want to 'burn down the city.' It would also have to recognize at a public level that the police have a duty to deal with any incident of public disorder. Furthermore, it would be necessary for it to distance itself from those talk show hosts guilty of incitement. The cost might be high in terms of the loss of a few supporters, but it would not be as high as if it does nothing.

The PNC is at a crossroads. If it allows the tail to wag the dog so that the situation moves out of its control, it will be the beginning of the end for a party which has represented the interests of the African people in this country for half a century. It will find itself in danger of fragmenting as irrational forces come to dictate its ends and its methods - and this in a situation where there is no viable political entity standing in the wings to fill the void. The silent majority of the PNC's supporters, no less than the disruptive minority, need the party's representation, and it owes it to them to adjust its modes of response to a new and more complex situation. It has always had people of talent and sophistication in its ranks, and at no time in history have they been more needed than now.

Above all else, the PNC requires decisive leadership at this point in time. Mr Hoyte has seen the party through difficult times with some skill - in the post Burnham era, for instance, when he began to open up the society, and in 1992, when he committed it to a free and fair election. The nation, no less than the party, wants to hear his voice now. Only he has the stature, the will and the ability to take the PNC in a direction which will guarantee its survival. If he does not do so, then the consequences for the party and the country will be grim. If he does do so, then his place in history will be secure. And so will the future of Guyana.