If and when Hoyte goes
Issues for PNC and PPP By Rickey Singh
Guyana Chronicle
March 24, 2002

Related Links: Articles on PNC leadership
Letters Menu Archival Menu

THE CYNICS say that he is 'playing dead to see what funeral he gets'. Or, as the Trinidadians would say, 'playing dead to catch corbeaux' (carrion crow). But it would appear that Hugh Desmond Hoyte is about to prove them wrong.

The cynicism and expressed doubts about Hoyte's recent disclosure that he does not intend to remain as leader of the People's National Congress/Reform beyond his 74th birthday in March next year, are not at all surprising.

An intention, however, is not the same as decision. If it happens, as seems likely, it will be a significant political development that has been long in coming - after three successive electoral defeats under his leadership following the restoration of electoral democracy in 1992.

With the passing in August 1985 of Forbes Burnham, founder leader of the PNC, and Cheddi Jagan, founder-leader of the PPP in March 1997- the two political stalwarts who had dominated the life of this country from the 1950s - it was a matter of time before leadership changes followed, although neither party has in its structure a clearly identifiable deputy for leadership succession.

The maximum leader syndrome has always been in evidence in both parties while Jagan and Burnham lived, although the 'democratic centralism' dimension in the case of the PPP has made more appealing its claim to collective leadership.

Hoyte happened to be in place as Prime Minister and Vice-President when Burnham died and with the national mood so strongly in favour of a change from the PNC's "paramountcy rule" doctrine, there was no question of taking risks in leadership change, even with names like Viola Burnham and Hamilton Green being bandied around.

He was to make good use of his seven years as President to solidify his control of the party of which he was a new comer compared to, for example, Green.

Race Politics
Out of power, the PNC under Hoyte found itself relying even more heavily on the ethnic weapon against the PPP, one that was used with vengeance for the December 1997 general election against Janet Jagan who was to be attacked in the most venomous, cowardly manner on race, gender and age as her party's presidential candidate.

The pity of it all, as well placed sources have confirmed, is that the widow of Cheddi Jagan- a courageous woman, whose roots run as deep in Guyana as any of yesterday's or today's political personalities of any significance - had reluctantly accepted to lead the PPP/Civic into that election against her own better judgement and having earlier canvassed colleagues for someone else to do so.

The PNC's race-hate campaign against Janet Jagan would certainly be remembered as one of the very low points of its leadership. The spillover effects were to further exacerbate the post-election racial/political problems right into new elections a year ago that the PNC against lost, having failed to either correct its image problem or broaden its support base.

The PPP/Civic, on the other hand, was able to make a fundamental change in its choice of the young, energetic and bright Bharrat Jagdeo to succeed Janet Jagan as President and later to be elected, in his own right, at the March 19, 2001 poll, while the party's leadership remain in the hands of Donald Ramotar in the capacity of General Secretary.

When Cheddi Jagan lived, there was no need to make a distinction in leadership of government and party, as he combined both positions with such ease, as was also the case with Burnham. They respectively embodied the PPP and PNC.

Today, however, while the PNC/Reform is focusing on the very tough task of finding a new leader to replace Hoyte - a process that must seriously begin at its forthcoming August congress - the PPP/Civic would be expected to engage in more serious, critical review of its own collective leadership structure and policies at its July congress.

Jagdeo and Hoyte
And if Hoyte has good reasons to finally make way for his succession, then President Jagdeo must also engage in some early critical assessment of his own leadership style and invest his future in building coalitions in the tradition of a Cheddi Jagan, that would give meaning to "collective leadership" at the level of party and government.

For one thing, he has to resist, avoid, the danger of a head of a state or government publicly disagreeing or reprimanding any of his cabinet colleagues, or conveying the impression that their ideas are welcome only if they coincide or reinforce his own views and concepts.

Whatever may be his own real or perceived leadership problem it remains a most challenging task for the PNC/Reform to come up with a credible, winnable alternative to the PPP/Civic's Jagdeo. But this itself requires attitudinal and policy changes in the functioning of the party's Executive and Central Committees.

While Hoyte was perhaps the best card they PNC had to offer for the 1992 and 1997 elections, it is evident that its "reform" component proved insignificant in making a difference for the 2001 poll. It is true, as Hoyte has said, that under his leadership the party managed to retain its support base.

But the other side of the argument is that having stagnated with that base, the PNC can hardly win an honest election unless, after Hoyte, there emerges a leader who will have the vision and capacity to break with the existing culture of the party that makes it so difficult to widen its support and alter the image of over-dependence on the race weapon.

Potential Challengers
The comparatively young potential challengers, like Vincent Alexander and Raphael Trotman - chairman Robert Corbin still has a lot of baggage to shed - will have much work to do in convincing those within the party whose votes matter, that they have what it would take to succeed the 'old man' of the PNC, its elder statesman, after Burnham, if they really want to be the party's credible alternative to the PPP's Jagdeo for the 2006 general election.

Those who are critical of Hoyte for allegedly being "too soft" in his opposition to the government and are anxious to foment problems for the PPP/Civic, may come to regret their misreading of the mood of the people and failure to at least show that flexibility reportedly associated with Hoyte's leadership.

It is early days yet with a number of "ifs" and "buts" about a successor to Hoyte. There needs to be more clarity of Hoyte's position at the party's August congress, in fairness to those who are ready to offer themselves for leadership.

There are unanswered questions about Hoyte's promise of a "seamless transition" to the leadership succession. Even now there are reports of groups being conveniently encouraged to come forward to ask Hoyte to remain as leader. Hence, the cynical talk about "playing dead" to see what "funeral" he gets.

It is not, however, too early for any potential successor to Hoyte to be aware that he would be dead in the water to lead a PNC government if he feels he can do better than Hoyte by engaging in non-cooperation, hostile, confrontational politics with the PPP and the government it leads.

If all such an alternative leader can offer is more aggressiveness, threats of destabilisation and mobilising grassroots support along racial lines, it would be a tragedy not just for the PNC, but for Guyana.

For the PPP/Civic administration, on the other hand, it has to be less anxious to dismiss criticisms of its policies as a government, pursue more sincerely and vigorously the politics of inclusion and reach out more seriously for compromises in the dialogue process with the PNC/Reform while Hoyte is still its leader.