Big decisions awaiting PNC/R Editorial
Stabroek News
February 4, 2002

Judging from the continuing debate in the letters [ please note: link provided by LOSP web site ] columns of this newspaper, the PNC REFORM faces testing questions in the run up to its scheduled August congress.

The key issue, of course, is that of its future leadership and with it, the direction and stratagems of the party. While it is not a certainty, the prevailing view is that current leader, Desmond Hoyte, will step down and hand over the mantle of leadership.

Though acclaimed for introducing sweeping economic reforms in the late 80s and early 90s and yielding to democratic elections under enormous international and local pressure, Mr Hoyte has been at the helm of his party in the successive electoral defeats of 1992, 1994, 1997 and 2001. Given this, together with simmering discontent in the party with his leadership and his age, it is unlikely that he would be his party's candidate for the next scheduled elections in 2006. Therefore, the transition process is likely to begin at this congress to give the new leader sufficient time to prepare the party for the next electoral challenge.

It is for the party to make this decision but there are several considerations of interest to the entire nation and not only the PNC/R membership and its support base.

The first is whether in anointing a new leader the party is prepared to confront its past and to make a clean breast of it. Would the new leader be prepared to express remorse for the electoral fraud and the dark days of dictatorship that the party presided over? Within the party there are those who believe that this is the only way it can truly reform itself and broaden its appeal. Many others are firmly opposed to any expression of regret or apology. Hence, at its last congress before the 2001 elections the party leader would only go as far as saying that the PNC/R did make some mistakes and that was the end of that. He then proceeded to unveil the Reform component of his party's ticket, widely interpreted as an attempt to revamp the image of the PNC. The re-engineering didn't go far enough and a full and frank assessment of its past is pivotal if it is to break out of its entrenched, unchanging voter base. It has little chance of attracting new voters without this. Whether a new leader is drawn from the old guard or the new guard it is a question that won't go away.

The second issue is that of strategy. Particularly over the last five years, the party's method of protesting has become synonymous with unstable extra-parliamentary tactics that seem born of its supporters' frustration at the PNC/R's inability to win an election. While the extra-parliamentary tactics wrested certain concessions - including the slashing of the PPP/Civic's 1997 term from five years to three - they have made stable governance virtually impossible, created enormous social and political tensions, set back the investment climate and created a poor image for Guyana abroad. Moreover, the party's tactic of crying electoral fraud at each election when there is precious little to sustain it has become tiresome and counter-productive. Is the party prepared to assess this strategy and to come up with a different game plan which retains its militancy and close scrutiny of government but doesn't create severe social and political dislocation?

Thirdly, the issue of the political dialogue that has been started between President Bharrat Jagdeo and Mr Hoyte is crucial. In the inflammable atmosphere that followed the 2001 elections, the dialogue generated oxygen for the stifling political climate and defused anxieties. While there have been many bumps and potholes on the road, the talks are an encouraging snapshot of what is possible in mature dialogue between two leaders and what its transference to that struggling institution - Parliament - can yield.

If the PNC/R changes leaders midstream what are the implications for the dialogue which both leaders have indicated they want to continue? Could Mr Hoyte remain in the talks as his party's nominee with the full backing of a new leader? Since there was no formal agreement underpinning the parameters of the dialogue could a new leader in discussion with the President seek to modify the bases of the talks? Maybe introducing new features and other topics deemed by the party to be desirable? It is certainly an interesting scenario. The bottom line is that the dialogue should continue even if there is dissatisfaction. Ways and means must be found to improve it.

Fourthly, would a new leader be prepared to countenance different governance structures for the country as opposed to the current Westminster hybrid. In the firm grip of race-based voting that threatens to make electoral democracy a life of opposition in perpetuity for the PNC/R, is the party going to contemplate alternative forms of governance?

It's early days yet but these are some of the issues that the country as a whole has an interest in and that the PNC/R should be reflecting on in the months leading up to congress.