Leadership of the PNC Editorial
Stabroek News
March 16, 2002

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It is now no longer a matter for speculation, there will, well before the next national elections due in 2006, be a new leader of the People's National Congress Reform. Mr Desmond Hoyte indicated in a television interview last week with Mr Christopher Ram that within a year or so the arrangements for the transfer of leadership should be worked out "satisfactorily to the party". He said he did not expect to find himself at the age of 74, next March, as leader of the party. A change in the leadership had been widely expected for some time, particularly in the light of a remark made by Mr Stanley Ming when answering some questions at the turn of the year in the Sunday Stabroek, but now Mr Hoyte has himself brought the matter out in the open, though two of the logical candidates to replace him have noted that he has not done so with absolute finality and had not clearly indicated that he was not seeking re-election at the party's biennial congress due in August this year. At each biennial congress the election of party leader is an agenda item though the post is not usually contested.

Mr Hoyte told this newspaper after the interview that there was some campaigning already taking place and said he did not feel that open campaigning for the leadership of the party would divide it. He said there were several contenders and it was expected that they would visit the party groups throughout the country to mobilise support for their candidacy. He also said it would be unfair to deny candidates the opportunity to do so even though there were no formal arrangements for such campaigning in the party.

We believe that an open and transparent campaign for the leadership of the party would be in the best traditions of democratic politics and could be a good thing both for the party itself and for the political culture of Guyana generally. One would hope that there would be a minimum of negative campaigning. A key issue, of course, is which candidate is likely to have the best chance of leading the party to victory at the next elections. That involves issues like the party's present image, the possibility of the new leader attracting crossover votes, indeed the chance of broadening the party's base on the strength of a credible programme for development.

Many not in the party and some in the party will agree that the party needs a new image. The high point of Mr Hoyte's political career was his years as a reforming president who started to open up what had become a closed and somewhat authoritarian society, reversed a failed economic policy and accepted a return to electoral democracy. Since then, he has projected a more ambivalent and somewhat harsher image. Moreover, the aftermath of the l992 and even more the l997 elections can only have served to harden ethnic divisions.

The People's Progressive Party surprised everyone by choosing a young man for their presidential candidate relatively unencumbered by the political hatreds of the past, energetic and well informed, to replace Dr and Mrs Jagan thus bypassing many more senior party figures. Perhaps later this year in what could be an interesting campaign the members of the PNC will be faced with an important choice. They will have to weigh the strengths and weaknesses of the candidates. Logically, this election of a new leader would take place at the party congress in August in which case it would certainly be helpful if Mr Hoyte declared well in advance that he did not intend to seek re-election so that the candidates could campaign openly and freely. If Mr Hoyte does stand for re-election in August then presumably his strategy would be to step down some time after that which would leave the then chairman in temporary control of the party. A congress would then have to be summoned by the chairman within three months to elect a new leader.

Whenever that elections occurs, it is a decision that could have profound consequences both for the party and the future of the country.