Corbin's options as PNC/R leader
By Rickey Singh
Guyana Chronicle
January 12, 2003

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A WELL-meaning foreign-based Guyanese economist has written to some fellow overseas-located nationals, this columnist included, suggesting that at this time of post-Desmond Hoyte change in leadership of the People's National Congress/Reform, it may be useful to encourage the party in the "direction of a responsible and genuinely multi-racial" party.

Of course, to become "genuinely multi-racial" in composition and outlook is a challenge for both of Guyana's major political parties, given the reality of their respective historical ethnic mass base of support since the tragic split of the original People's Progressive Party in the 1950s.

In the post-Hoyte era, and just over three years to a new general election, there are many adjustments to be made by the party Hoyte had inherited from its founder-leader, Forbes Burnham.

And the challenge appears more enormous for Hoyte's successor than it may be for the current shared leadership structure of the PPP and President Bharrat Jagdeo.

So far as leadership change in the PNC/R is concerned, the die seems to have been cast and the special congress being organised for February 1 is expected to endorse Robert Corbin, the party's 53-year-old chairman and interim leader.

Whatever the burden of some of the unflattering political baggage he bears, let all sides, in and out of the PNC/R, acknowledge that Corbin has for years been a loyal, militant foot soldier of the party.

He had the privilege, both under Burnham and Hoyte, to hold some key positions in the PNC administrations of the time and also in the party.

Corbin was a Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of National Mobilisation, a party organiser and leading element in the Young Socialist Movement, and has been holding the chairmanship of the PNC before and after the marriage with the 'reform' people. A special relationship had also developed between him and Hoyte at a critical personal period in his political career.

Loyal foot soldier
His controversial "militancy" may have earned him the now undesirable reputation of an inflexible, hard-line decision-maker. This may no longer be accurate and we could yet be surprised by his capacity for flexibility, very much as Hoyte was to prove as President - after the passing of Burnham.

After Burnham and Hoyte, Corbin deserves, possibly more than a few other potential contenders, to be objectively assessed for leadership at a time when the future of the party may very well be at the crossroads!

Insiders and outsiders, media commentators and others, would have their preferences, but the ultimate decision on the new leader will be that of the delegates at the party's special congress.

Since Vincent Alexander, who is heading the preparatory committee for the big political event is apparently already in Corbin's corner - perhaps to avail himself for consideration as the new chairman - Raphael Trotman, reputedly a liberal, may not wish to risk his own perceived popularity with sections of the party and public at this stage to compete with Corbin for the leadership.

We have 19 days to find out if there will be a challenge or just an endorsement. I suspect the latter will be the case. `Party unity’ is already the orchestrated refrain. It expediently serves to cover other problems, differences in personalities as well as issues in the shaping of the post-Hoyte policy agenda with answers yet to come on the future role of the `reform’ wing of the party.

A mixture of race-hate politics - some of which had its vulgar manifestation at, of all places, the State funeral for Hoyte - and unprecedented level of killings and criminal rampage have reduced Guyana to a terribly wounded, traumatised nation.

The leadership quality required cannot fall back on the old politics with all that it connotes for racial and political divisions and costly disturbances. And no one should be so unfair, so unrealistic to look to Jagdeo to assume the stature of a Cheddi Jagan, or to Corbin to be a Hoyte.

As Corbin prepares to assume the leadership of the party, his options seem clear enough" He could either stay with the politics and policies of the man he is succeeding. Or, make a break, as Hoyte did when he succeeded Burnham.

For those emotionally complaining against any mention of the negative factors about Hoyte's politics, including his own involvement in rigged elections, they need to be reminded that Guyana's post-independence history cannot conveniently be written or falsified to suit ANY political leader or party.

Significant Difference
The significant difference that will emerge between Hoyte and Corbin as leader of the PNC is that the former had succeeded Burnham, his mentor, his "creative genius and master builder", while he still held the reins of state power from 1985 to 1992.

The changes he pursued followed long after the burial of Burnham and the extended period of mourning. Corbin and his party have been out of power since October 1992. He has to wait until the March 2005 general election to compete with Jagdeo for the presidency - if the political system of governance continues as it currently exists until then. Unless some dramatic changes take place on shared or inclusive governance.

Armed with state power and leading the PNC at a period fundamentally different to today's Guyana, Hoyte succeeded in turning 'Burnhamism' on its head.

The question is whether Corbin will feel confident enough and has that vision of the future to break with the negative, hostile politics associated with Hoyte, once out of power, the statesman President who, as Opposition Leader was yet to retreat from the threat to make "Guyana ungovernable", at the time of his passing.

It is, therefore, 'comrade' Corbin's call. He could either use his assumption as the new constitutionally appointed Leader of the Opposition to end a period of brutal negative politics in 2002 under Hoyte's leadership.

Or, he could stay the present course and let the PNC and the country continue to suffer the damning consequences, including the bizarre role of the race-driven, political mischief makers on unregulated television, one now flaunting the name of Hoyte on its nameplate as it makes a mockery of freedom of expression and freedom of the media.

Hoyte will forever be remembered for the significant departure from the politics of rigged elections that was so fundamental a feature of 'Burnhamism' of which both he, and Corbin were valued comrades while the PNC's maximum leader lived.

Corbin now has the opportunity to end the PNC/R's boycott of Parliament and resume the high-level dialogue process with President Jagdeo that Hoyte had put "on hold".

It would then be up to the President and the PPP/C to respond in good faith with initiatives of their own to end the hostile, cold war climate that pervades the social and political landscape.

Together, the two dominant parties, aided by the small parliamentary parties and civil society could then move out of the painful, suffocating crisis in which Guyana finds itself.

For a start, there could be the signing of that social partners crafted anti-crime communiqué that has been knocking around for over two months while the criminals push the security forces on the defensive and Guyana degenerates into a lawless place with its people living in fear.

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