The PNC at 50
February 3, 2007
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the People's National Congress, Guyana's second oldest, second largest and second most successful political party.
The PNC got started through a schism in the original People's Progressive Party in 1955 which divided into supporters of Dr Cheddi Jagan - the Jaganites - and supporters of Mr Forbes Burnham - the Burnhamites. The two factions, competing as rivals in the general elections in August 1957, split finally only after the Jaganite PPP won 46 per cent, and the Burnhamite PPP won 39 per cent, of the vote.
The schism turned into a chasm. Six weeks later, Forbes Burnham ended the pretence of being part of the PPP and established a brand new party called the People's National Congress. At its first congress in October 1957, Forbes Burnham was elected leader, a position he held until his death in 1985. Starting from scratch, he went on to construct an uncommon political machine which, through adroitness, was able to absorb or amalgamate with other political parties.
The PNC assimilated John Carter's United Democratic Party in 1959; coalesced with Peter d'Aguiar's United Force in 1964, and attracted prominent members of the Cheddi Jagan's PPP in the 1970s. As recently as 2000, it joined with Stanley Ming's Reform group, and, last year, somewhat clumsily, co-opted the inchoate 'One Guyana' represented by Anthony Vieira and Keith Scott of the National Front Alliance.
Remarkably, also, the PNC was gauche enough to alienate many of its leading members who went off to form parties of their own. Llewellyn John, a former Assistant General Secretary and Minister of Home Affairs, founded the People's Democratic Movement; Eusi Kwayana, a former General Secretary, formed the Working People's Alliance; Hamilton Green a former General Secretary and Prime Minister, set up the Good and Green Guyana party; and Raphael Trotman, a former MP, most recently formed the Alliance for Change which gave the PNC such a headache last year.
Unlike the alliance with the UDP and the coalition with the UF, however, the PNC's dalliance with One Guyana did nothing to enhance its electability as its performance in the elections shows. After a complacent campaign, the PNC recorded its worst electoral performance last year, slumping to 36 per cent of the popular vote in contrast to its first election performance in 1957 when it won 39 per cent.
As the main parliamentary opposition today, the majority of the PNC's back-benchers, and even front-benchers, are conspicuous by their lack of contribution to debates in the National Assembly. On the other hand, its youth arm, the Guyana Youth and Students Movement has been grumbling loudly. Rumblings in its women's arm, the National Congress of Women, and a near mutiny against the party leader Mr Robert Corbin in the General Council are symptoms of deep disaffection. They indicate that the party is losing its vitality; at age 50, it seems to be in mid-life crisis and has started to dodder.
The PNC now needs to give the Guyanese people an explanation of its egregious economic and electoral errors in office in 1964-1992. It also needs to make a careful examination of the present political situation and consider its future as an organisation that has been entrusted with the parliamentary representation of a substantial portion of the population.
The PNC has an obligation to the nation to work strenuously towards holding the PPPC executive to the highest standards of governance and to check on legislative abuses through the National Assembly. The party's present leadership seems to be achieving neither.