The PNCR Congress is always an interesting time for political observers, not least because in recent times there has always been a challenge to the leaders and energetic contests for other positions. In recent years both Robert Corbin and David Granger have had to overcome serious challenges. The untimely passing a few years ago of the widely respected Winston Murray, derailed what would have been the most serious contest in the PNCR leadership, perhaps in its history.
The leadership contest this time around is taking place between two talented and experienced Party operatives with impeccable credentials in terms of how they are seen by PNCR members and supporters. Mr. Norton has been in the public eye for a longer period and represents a more militant approach within the PNCR, even though he has worked to modify this image and has demonstrated an interest in wider policy matters. Mr. Granger is the incumbent and has already stamped an image of decisive and thoughtful leadership of both the PNCR and the Opposition. I listened to a speech by him last Wednesday at the opening of a seminar on Parliament, the People and the Media. He has completely lost the hesitancy and soft tones displayed when he was first elected. He is now a commanding presence with a forceful and coherent message.
Mr. Granger is under internal pressure for his perceived lack of militancy. This originated with his apparent agreement with the Government to a phased increase in subsidized electricity prices for Linden residents. His alleged lack of enthusiasm in organizing mass demonstrations, or at least adopting a more muscular approach, against the Government, has also been under scrutiny.
The memories of those who make this type of criticism are short. There were mass demonstrations between 1992 and 2001 organized and led by the PNCR on the ground of rigged elections. They resulted in robberies, ethnic violence, looting, arson and fear. Apart from shortening the presidency of Janet Jagan, who resigned anyway, they achieved absolutely nothing except a bitter aftertaste. In fact, the PPP/C won the elections of 2001 and 2006 and Bharrat Jagdeo served twelve years as president. The critics have forgotten, not only the negative consequences of PNCR’s ‘militancy’ and lack of political success, but also the collapse of militant politics even while Desmond Hoyte was alive. After 2001 the PNCR lost the capacity to mount mass demonstrations. Robert Corbin, a perceptive and intelligent leader, was forced to abandon street politics because it no longer worked. He incurred severe internal criticism for so doing.
The Linden events of 2012 may appear to have been successful because the electricity charges were eventually withdrawn. But the same objective could have been achieved without provoking a confrontation. However, what may be possible in Linden in special circumstances is not possible in Georgetown. I do not believe that Mr. Granger is particularly averse to militant politics but he clearly senses a different situation in the city.
Mr. Norton, who supported Winston Murray against Robert Corbin and Carl Greenidge against David Granger, has the luxury of not being the leader of the PNCR at this time and therefore does not have to answer to anyone, except that he has to persuade delegates to support him. Except for a few public statements, the public is not aware of his plans or programme. He clearly has a track record of being a former General Secretary and one of the PNCR’s loyal and best organisers, mobilisers and inspirers. He was already a tried and tested leader when Mr. Granger was elected. Whether this would be enough to displace an incumbent who has already has a track record will depend on PNCR’s internal politics. The public has to await the outcome.
There have been many public criticisms from credible external sources about Mr. Granger’s leadership. I have added my own on PNCR’s and Mr. Granger’s policies on several occasions. Apart from the issue of militancy, he has been accused of having no policy positions on many matters including the economy. Whether these are valid or not, they are not likely to affect the leadership contest. Neither would criticisms from overtly political sources such as the PPP that have to be understood in the context of competitive politics and are not really material to this discussion.
Mr. Granger in his first electoral outing has had to face an unusual political situation – a minority Government that does not see a need for the inclusion of the Opposition in the Government to secure majority support in the National Assembly. The possibility of an Opposition Party with limited resources to deploy the necessary skill and effort to fully handle such a complicated political situation and at the same time outline detailed policy choices ought not to be underestimated. Mr. Granger now faces the most important decision of his political career which will have profound implications for the country – whether to support a no confidence motion to be tabled by the AFC.
Certainly for a section of his Party and that section of the Party’s perspective, Mr. Granger has grown into the job of Opposition Leader and is doing the best with what he has.