The state owned press has been reporting recently that preparations for the PPP Congress are moving ahead. Apart from physical and organizational aspects, there are a number of documents which are prepared for presentation. The most important is the Central Committee’s Report. This lengthy document reviews developments since the last Congress. Areas of examination include political developments, the performance of the Party, the successes of the Government, the economy, the international situation and others. An analysis of reasons for the electoral loss of 2011 is likely to be an important inclusion. This lengthy document which takes several hours to read is the first substantive item of the Congress.
The General Secretary takes on the responsibility of getting the Report prepared. He does not usually prepare the full Report himself but would prepare one or more sections, including the political section. It could be that someone else assists the General Secretary to prepare the political section but this is not known. It is not known who assists the General Secretary with other sections of the Report, if anyone does. When Cheddi Jagan was alive, the preparation was an open process. Several persons assisted but he usually prepared the political section. Everybody knew who was doing what. Completed parts would be shared for comments. Then and now, when the draft is completed, it is presented to the Central Committee for approval. With the little time that is usually available to absorb the document, amendments are not usually substantial.
The Central Committee’s Report is read to a plenary of the Congress on the afternoon/evening of the opening day. The same evening and part of the following day the delegates and observers divide up into Workshops to discuss various aspects of the Report. The topics of the Workshops – the economy, social services, political situation, Party organization and others, are recommended by the Congress Committee, all of whose decisions have to be approved y the Central Committee, which usually happens without much discussion, if any. These Workshops provide the opportunity for delegates and observers to make their contributions to the Report. These are frank and there are no shortages of criticisms and suggestions. The reasons for the Party’s weak performance at the 2011 elections are likely to be a main topic.
The Workshops are chaired by a senior and trusted Party leader. If the deliberations become too vigorous or too critical, they are either answered there and then or ‘guided’ to a less confrontational mode. The rapporteur is a junior, but equally trusted, Party leader. He or she prepares the report of the Workshop to be delivered to the plenary. While the report will include the major issues raised, it will be presented in sanitized form so as not to create any impression of disgruntlement. Indeed, the deliberation at the Workshops are in fact the only forum for free discussions without pressure and while they may be vigorous and express dissatisfaction, they are not hostile to the Party.
At the next plenary the Reports are read and discussed. Very few comrades would dare to make criticisms in the presence of about 1,000 delegates and observers and the entire Party leadership. In fact the occasion somehow elicits an outpouring of sycophantic support for the Report, the General Secretary and the past and current President. Contributors are rarely more than a few and the reports, including the Central Committee’s Report, are usually adopted unanimously at this time. Nothing more is heard of these Reports except that at midpoint for the next Congress, the policy positions contained in the Reports are reviewed to assess implementation. The review is usually positive.
It can be seen therefore that the Party line, policy projections and decisions at Congress are determined mainly by the Party leadership with only token input from members. For example, the first time the membership sees the General Secretary’s Report is when it is delivered to their Party Groups about a week before the Congress. The opportunity for serious deliberation at Congress is pathetically inadequate. Despite the deliberative parts of the Congress, much effort goes into creating a celebratory atmosphere which emphasizes unity and confidence in the leadership but limits the capacity for serious challenges to policy.
The Party experienced its worst crisis in twenty years with the election results. It deflated the invincibility felt by many and now brings into focus the real possibility of a loss of political office in the future. The public has heard no analysis of what went wrong for the 2011 elections. In fact, if any analysis or introspection has taken place it must have been superficial, because business, in Party and Government, continues in the same old way. The Party and Government appears immobilized, unable to innovate, incapable of rising up to the new challenges, and seems to be drifting aimlessly and haplessly towards the inevitable. Some ideas of a new direction and how the Central Committees’s Report can initiate it will be explored in the following weeks.