The PNC should have a debate on a future leader and what he or she has to offer
Stabroek News
January 9, 2002

Dear Editor,

Aubrey Norton's letter [ please note: link provided by LOSP web site ] captioned "The PNC/R is no longer an opposition of any consequence" (3.1.2002) raises interesting questions. But it also poses a challenge to party unity and loyalty. Although Norton's concerns may be reasonable, his letter is so tinged with superciliousness, that it dilutes any legitimate argument he proffered. The viciousness of the former PNC general secretary serves to further weaken the institution of the PNC/R. Such public badmouthing and loose discussion of internal party matters, is a timely reminder that the quality displayed by some infidel members who aspire to party leadership, is the penchant for sowing seeds of dissonance. No one with good intentions and the best interest of the PNC/R at heart will embrace the Hamilton Green road map to disruption and disunity.

Some may question the writer's motivation, since he served as general secretary of the PNC/R under Mr. Hoyte and made their parting rather public. Norton contends that Mr. Hoyte has "failed our people miserably" as Opposition Leader. He asserts that Mr. Hoyte is not pursuing the interest of our people but is involved in a game of his own personal political survival. Further, the writer charged that the PNC/R no longer constitutes an opposition of any consequence to the PPP, and that "Mr. Hoyte wallows in his false sense of statesmanship" as the party declines. Norton is as wrong as his analysis is disingenuous and superficial.

I will not presume to defend Mr. Hoyte. Like many in the party, I am sure Mr. Hoyte agrees that he is not indispensable and that the PNC/R needs new blood and new leadership. But Aubrey Norton's less than subtle attempt to discredit the party leader is self-defeating and injurious to the party. It is established that Mr. Hoyte has had a very successful presidency and that he is a statesman of international stature. Obscure edicts from ambitious political types will neither diminish nor distort this record.

It is widely held that the PNC has never won a legitimate election. Indeed the party has never produced any evidence to establish that it won the 1992, 1997 or 2001 elections, although it successfully challenged the validity of the 1997 election in court. Similarly, the PPP and the Elections Commission will never convince the public that those elections were not tainted with an element of fraud. Notwithstanding this, the PNC/R scored major accomplishments in opposition, contrary to Norton's opinion. Careful research will prove that, arguably, it has been one of the most effective parliamentary oppositions in the region. From 1992 to about 1999, the PNC/R virtually held the government hostage and Desmond Hoyte was revered as the nation's true leader.

Further, Mr. Hoyte forced Mrs. Jagan and the PPP to accept the Hermanston Accord, which truncated their term in government by half, and forced them to enact drastic changes to the constitution and election laws, instituted by the PNC itself and which the PPP claims kept it out of power. The reform process resulted in the reconfiguration of the formula for allocating seats in the National Assembly, a system that placed the PPP at a disadvantage at the 2001 elections. I credit the PPP for honoring the Herdmanston Accord. Given that the government was "theoretically" already elected, albeit illegally, I believe that the Accord, while being a political solution, was unconstitutional. I acknowledge that it was eventually enacted into law. However this should have been via a sunset constitutional amendment. This course of action demonstrated the inferiority of the PPP on matters of the law. Nevertheless, both the Accord and the PNC's success at vitiating the 1997 elections were a masterpiece of the Opposition strategy of making the country ungovernable. Both the Accord - the political solution and the Court challenge -the legal solution were unprecedented in modern politics, as well as the Commonwealth jurisprudence. Credit must therefore be given to the brilliance and effectiveness of the PNC/R leadership. Opposition parties in the Caribbean now use this PNC model, as witnessed in St Vincent and the Grenadines and Trinidad & Tobago. They will be the subject of academic discussion for years to come.

Norton inferred that the dialogue between Mr. Hoyte and President Jagdeo is meaningless. But many will argue that during the PNC government, dialogue between the government and opposition was trivial at best. However, today marks a new and different era. The PPP can ill afford ineffective consultations with the PNC. Prior to embarking on this mission, Mr. Hoyte laid out the PNC/R's conditions and objectives, which the President accepted. Consequently, joint committees were set up to implement the decisions of the two leaders. Recently Stabroek News published the names of dozens of individuals appointed to state boards upon recommendation by the PNC/R. It is now up to those individuals to work out the modalities of operation, while the party leadership holds the government to these commitments.

Whether we like it or not, the PPP government is accepted as legitimate. Obviously the PNC/R did not win the last elections. Therefore it must engage the government in meaningful dialogue. The party has an obligation to aid in the development of the country. At the same time, it must valiantly guard and represent the interest of its supporters. And it must also convince the nation that it is a viable alternative to the PPP government. The tactics of the post 1997 elections are now irrelevant options used then to confront an illegitimate regime. Mr. Hoyte has no choice but to work with the government to improve the standard of living of the Guyanese people and to safeguard the interests of PNC/R supporters.

Rather than expend political capital bashing the party leader, Aubrey Norton and his colleagues should work on fostering a consensus candidate to succeed Mr. Hoyte, if this is at all possible. They must fashion a modern, affirmative and strategic plan for winning an election. They must build bridges beyond the traditional PNC/Reform base, with a view to forming political partnerships with large sections of the Indo Guyanese community. They must increase the party's influence in Regions one and nine, with the aim of winning those regions in the next elections. This will allow the party to secure a majority of seats in the Parliament. It would be good for democracy if one party controls the presidency and another the legislative agenda in the Parliament. And they must create a blueprint for the configuration of a fair electoral system that renders racial voting irrelevant. Under such a system the PNC, as part of a broad, effective and intrinsic collation can win the presidency. There is a lot of work the PNC/R must do. Attacks on the leadership in the national press only give ammunition to our enemies, who then have a feast at the party's expense. It fractures the fabric of the organization and turns off donors and potential supporters. Hence, it must stop. One hardly sees this problem in the PPP. At least they present a united front publicly. It's time the PNC/R emulate them.

Obviously, I agree with some of Norton's concerns. I myself have been critical of the party's inaction on many fronts, as well as some of its tactics. However, Norton seems to absolve the rest of the PNC executive from responsibility, and targets Mr. Hoyte only. But the rest of PNC/R executive sometimes appears to be obsolete and inept. The public perception is that if Mr. Hoyte does not act, no one else will demonstrate the necessary ingenuity and leadership. I often wonder where are the individuals who accepted the nomination for leader two years ago? They should be out there taking the fight to the PPP, mobilizing faithful supporters, ensuring that party groups function effectively and that the political machinery is intact. They should be articulating their vision for the party. They ought to tell the membership why they deserve to be leader. This is how real leaders aspire and strive to lead. But no one in this group has inspired the membership and can ignite the flames of unity. If a real leader does not emerge quickly, the public may very well reject the entire group as a bunch of lame ducks.

The debate in the PNC should not be about Mr. Hoyte. It must be about the future and who is best suited to assume the reins of leadership. At this juncture, a critical narrative of the PNC under Hoyte is unappealing and unproductive. I would like to know what the next leader has to offer. I would like to know how that leader plans to win the vital swing Regions, Parliament and the presidency. I would like a debate on how the PNC can be more democratic so that grass roots members can play a role in shaping policy. I would like a productive conversation on the economic empowerment of our people. And I wish to see a discussion on a formula for transforming the PNC into a sophisticated and viable political force.

Norton referred to complaints he received from contractors who are denied contracts by the PPP government, presumably due to their political affiliation. For this he blames the PNC leader. But what has Norton himself done to organize the complaints into a powerful contractors association? Such a body can effect change by representing the interest of these business owners and make strong demands of the government. This will also be a remarkable political achievement. Everyone in the leadership must play a role in accomplishing the mission of the party. Norton, therefore, must not only be critical, he should seize this opportunity to find solutions to the concerns highlighted in his letter. A destructive, colonial mentality will not inspire hope in the membership. It will undermine the confidence the nation possesses in the PNC/R and whosoever leads it. Since this is not the wish of any member, let us all work to strengthen and renew our party.

Yours faithfully,

Rickford Burke

PNC/R Member & Former Special Assistant to the PNC Leader