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Mr. Aubrey Norton would have us believe that in this hour he is the man the PNC and Guyana need, and in an exclusive interview with this paper last week he gave some of his reasons for believing so and his plans for the future. It would have been helpful if he had even briefly outlined a vision of his parties place in the future management of Guyana to prevent a surfeit of second guessing.
This would become particularly important for by way of education and leadership guidance Mr. Norton hopes to develop self-motivated cadres of activists with the capacity to act independently. He will find this extremely difficult to achieve without at some point providing a holistic vision.
This type of error is not unusual. Recently, the government announced that it will draft elections laws and circulate them for comment before taking them to parliament. I suspect that in this process one will be left to use one’s interpretation of what the government is attempting to achieve; is it worth supporting, are there better ways of achieving the same goals, etc.
In an important matter such as electoral reform, a more sensible way forward would have been to provide some discussion paper, white or preferably green, outlining the government’s policy on the matter, before any drafting was done. In passing, the government approach also suggests that it may perceive its being in a position to proceed with legislation without consensus!
That said, the PNC has never won a free and fair elections in Guyana alone and my first assumption is that Mr. Norton knows and accepts this and believes that in collaboration with others his party could be the driving force in wining free and transparent elections. He did say that he intends to work to strengthen and broaden the partnership between the coalition parties by putting in place proper mechanisms for consultation, discussion, decision making and implementation. Here again, a vision would have helped for there are numerous difficulties, not least being the question of the possible nature of political participation in the present national context and how he envisages the problem of cooperation today. How does he view the existing constituencies and how are they likely to respond electorally? Without this it is purely speculative to assess the possible success of his scheme as he visualizes it. All one can possibly say with a reasonable degree of certainty is that strengthening, broadening and consulting are worthwhile ends in the present era and context.
There can be no doubt that Norton has the institutional and academic knowledge, political experience, skills, party association and reach, and that these make him an exceptional candidate for the leadership of the PNC. That he understands some of the burning issues within his party is demonstrated by his making a specific point of reaching out to the popular Region 10 duo of Vanessa Kissoon and Sharma Solomon. Further, at least in one important dimension, he has fathomed the mindsets of the party leadership that historically has called upon him when mass interventions are necessary and the vast majority of the PNC core constituency with the statement, ‘When you are dealing with the People’s Progressive Party, it can’t be a church affair; you will have to protest because they understand nothing else outside of protest. While you have to do your parliamentary work, you have to also be able to stand up to the excesses of the People’s Progressive Party. I have had a good track record standing up to them, and people know I would have stood up to them.’ If the government’s view of electoral reform is as I suspect, Norton and his party might have to respond sooner than he thinks!
I am not convinced that the behaviour of the PNC when it took office in 2015 – making dubious charges over PPP/C’s land deals, shackling former ministers, wasting resources over some old law books, dismissing 7,000 sugar workers at Christmas time, etc – were less excessive than what is taking place today but in Guyana political allegiances are largely built upon negative political perceptions. In last week’s Village Voice, the Guyana Human Rights Association asked, ‘When will we start doing politics in Guyana?’ My answer is: when we are able to contain such perceptions and create a substantial political context.
If the PNC’s conduct from about 1997 produced Bharrat Jagdeo, the Norton leadership challenge is being bolstered by the post 2020 PPP’s behaviour. Cometh the hour, cometh the man!