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…but activists say party must reform, repositioned
…change in leadership necessary
By Svetlana Marshall
Contending that there is no “power struggle” within the People’s National Congress Reform (PNCR), Political Activist, Lurlene Nestor said what Guyana is witnessing is an attempt to reposition the party to meet the changing political, social and economic realities but Political Scientist, Dr. David Hinds is of the opinion that the issues facing the party is as a result of decisions made pre and post 2020, in part, by a single individual, who was given an enormous amount of power, with little checks and balances.
“I wouldn’t categorise it as “problem” or “power struggle”, I regard what is happening as an effort by the executive and members to reposition the party to meet changing political, social and economic realities,” Nestor told Village Voice News when asked to weigh in on the issues facing the PNCR.
Since the loss of the 2020 General and Regional Elections to the Peoples Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C), Chairman of the A Partnership for National Unity + Alliance For Change (APNU+AFC), David Granger has come in for heavy criticism. PNCR forms a major part of APNU+AFC, and in recent months, there have been increasing calls for Granger to step down as the Leader of the PNCR over his leadership style.
Asked whether the time has come for leadership change, Nestor told Village Voice News that members of the party will decide when the Biennial Congress of the PNCR is held. “The party’s constitution provides a mechanism for the membership to decide the direction of the party, typically this is done every two years at its internal biennial congress or through any other ways as directed…by the constitution,” she explained.
Iterating that Guyanese is witnessing “democracy in action,” Nestor said the term “power struggle” is being peddled by detractors. “Any member of the PNCR has a right, under the party’s constitution, to vie for office. That can range from group executive to party leader. Sometimes people form alliances with others and run for positions as a team, that too is another interesting feature of the kind of democracy that exists in the party,” she said.
Nestor however, warned that failure to reposition the party can result in setbacks. “I don’t know that the party is losing ground because it is trying to reposition itself to effectively take on the challenges of present day Guyana. What I believe is that should it fail to effectively adjust to meet the current challenges it may attract some setbacks,” Nestor said.
She added: “Political parties go through a process of reflection and make adjustments after every election cycle. This reflection and assessment can only work in the interest of the party, as it tries to identify areas of strengths and possible weaknesses. Political parties are dynamic institutions that adapt to changing realities, the PNCR, would be an outlier if it does not reflect that dynamism that has been the hallmark of its history. What is important, is that the party understands that the sooner it is able to reposition itself the quicker it will improve its efficiency and focus.”
Nestor warned further that time is not always a friend of political parties. “The issues affecting people cannot wait, they need representation, guidance and support from the party and the longer the party remains locked in its internal repositioning process the less effective it could be at responding to the concerns of its constituents, or the nation,” Nestor told this newspaper.
But when faced with similar questions, Political Scientist, Dr. David Hinds, from the onset, said there is a leadership struggle in the party linked not only to the Coalition’s time in office (2015-2020) but its handling of the 2020 electoral impasse.
Placing former President David Granger at the center of the controversy, Dr. Hinds submitted that “enormous powers” were placed in the hands of the leader with little or no institutional or informal checks and balances.
“During the Coalition’s tenure Mr. Granger emerged as a very strong maximum leader. He was Leader of the party, Leader of the APNU, Leader of the Government and Head of State. He was also officially chair of Cabinet which turned out to be the only functioning council of the Coalition…That was a lot of power concentrated in one person even for a party and country that are accustomed to maximum leaders. What was worse is that there was little or no institutional or informal checks and balances on his power,” Dr. Hinds told this newspaper.
He said such was a colossal blunder on the part of the parties involved since Granger opted for a style of management that utilized the power at his disposal without much consultation within the PNCR, APNU and the broader coalition.
He said over time it turned into what many now call a “one man show.”
The Political Scientist said initially, the top leadership of the PNCR tolerated Granger’s posture in the interest of party and government solidarity, however, he said it was only after they became the victims, first, after March 2 and again after August 2, that they began to rebel.
“When the leader showed no interest in softening his use of the formal and informal powers at his disposal the situation quickly evolved into the open conflict we now see. It is really a conflict between a leader who is relying on the letter of the party’s constitution and the Coalition arrangements (the formal-legal powers in his hands) and a rebel faction which is relying on the collective spirit of these instruments,” Dr. Hinds reasoned.
He posited too that disagreements over the tactics and strategies employed during the five-month electoral impasse are among contributing factors. “Apparently, there were disagreements over issues such as the Recount, over how to respond to the foreign pressures and whether to hand over power in what turned out to be a disputed election. There are charges that the leader acted unilaterally on these matters which had implications beyond the party. There also appears to have been differences over how to respond after the PPP government was installed. But the final nail in the coffin was when the leader used his power as Representative of the list to unilaterally keep senior party leaders (who under normal circumstances would have gone to Parliament) from serving as MPs,” the Political Scientist reasoned.
He said given the circumstances, the open leadership clashes were more than likely to occur.
“In 1953 following the British invasion the united PPP suffered two splits which eventually led to two ethnic parties. Following the PPP’s defeat at the 1964 election, the PPP was gutted with several key leaders leaving. Following the defeat of the PNC in 1992 the PNC actually split into the Hoyte and Green factions with Green being suspended from the party. Again, with the shock defeat of the PPP in 2015 there were open disagreements over who and what caused the loss of power. Ramotar and some of the old guard became victims,” he pointed out.
Dr. Hinds said based on information received, many supporters believe that while Granger is a decent man, his apparent surrender of power without a fight, displayed weak leadership. “The charge of dictatorial leadership appears to be a shock to the masses who in the circumstances of lost power seem to be in step with the view that he should step down,” Dr. Hinds said.
He posited that at the Executive level some have taken a principled position while others have chosen self-preservation.
Noting that the current impasse has consequences beyond the party, Dr. Hinds submitted that the division within the party has prevented it from mounting a more vigorous response to the excesses of the PPP Government.
“It certainly is a defining moment for the PNC’s leadership. They have to balance multiple factors. From this distance both sides seem to be dug in. If that continues, it may have to get messy in order to get better. Some members are asking the leadership not to wash their linen in public. Mr. Granger seems to be of this mindset. But such matters cannot objectively be sorted out in private. History is not on the side of that approach,” Dr. Hinds told this newspaper.
Notwithstanding the circumstance, Dr. Hinds submitted that the PNCR is essential to a stable Guyana. “It is the only party with the potential and real capacity to stop the PPP’s barrage. But a PNC with the kind of one-manism that Granger is charged with is bad for intra-party stability, is an impediment to genuine Coalition Politics which are central to the PNC’s chances at elections and ultimately ill-fitted to the democratic demands of an oil-rich Guyana,” he warned.
Abide by party constitution
Meanwhile, though not objecting to calls for there to be changes in the leadership of the party, PNCR, Chairman of the North America Region (NAR) chapter Errol Lewis said such changes must be in conformity with the party’s constitution.
According to the Constitution of the PNCR, which was approved during the 10th Biennial Congress in May, 1994 and amended in 2009, the Leader and Chairperson along with the two Vice Chairpersons and Treasurer are to be elected by the Biennial Delegates Congress. The conditions are the same for the election of the 15 other members to sit on the Central Executive Committee (CEC).
“I am of the opinion that we do need leadership change, and note that I said leadership, not just the leader. We need leadership change, and as soon as we can get congress, we need to proceed and deal with that,” Lewis told Village Voice News.
In recent weeks, there have been increasing calls for Granger, and the General Secretary, Amna Ally to be removed from office over decisions they are alleged to have made unilaterally. Just last week, some members of PNCR’s Central Executive Committee (CEC) signaled their intention to oust Granger and Ally from the leadership of the party.
In a statement, the CEC Members accused Granger and Ally of continuously disregarding the decisions of the CEC, which is the highest decision making forum in the absence of Congress and General Council.
Granger’s decision to accept the recently formed parties by former government ministers, Jaipaul Sharma and Tabitha Sarabo-Halley into the A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) was among examples cited. The new parties – Equal Rights and Justice Party (ERJP) and Guyana Nation Builders Movement (GNBM) – were formed back-to-back in June 2021.
Five CEC Members, however, in a Letter to the Editor, distanced themselves from the statement which bought the Leadership of the PNCR into disrepute. “We denounce, most emphatically, the personal attacks against our constitutionally-elected Party Leader, Mr. David Granger, by a minority of persons who did not have the courage to affix their names to the ‘Statement’ but who claimed, cowardly, to write on behalf of the entire CEC,” CEC Members – Jennifer Ferreira-Dougal, Shurwayne Holder, Ganesh Mahipaul, Ernest Elliott and Annette Ferguson – said in the Letter to the Editor.
Weighing in on the issue, Lewis said it is unfair to lay the blame, solely at the feet of, the Leader. “Mr. Granger cannot be blamed solely for all that went wrong during their term in office. Other people messed up [but] I am not going into details…but other people messed up, and other people know they messed up in their time in the Administration,” Lewis said.
However, he said any decision to effect changes within the leadership of the PNCR must be done in accordance with the party’s constitution, which states that the leadership of the party ought to be elected during congress.
“My bottom line is – we need to remedy our situation in the right place. Yes, we do have supporters, and yes, there is an argument that it is not just your members who vote for you, we have constituencies that are not members but are supporters and they need to know what is happening, hence the social media demonstration. But I believe that we need to find a better way to handle our business,” the Chairman of the North America Region of the PNCR told this newspaper.
Airing dirty laundry
He said while there is freedom of expression, he is not in support of airing “dirty laundry” in the public. Lewis said the CEC should have put an early stopping to Granger, if it was felt that he was not complying with the Constitution.
“The party has a constitution that should be followed by all, and if the members of the CEC knew that Mr. Granger was not following protocol, at the CEC meeting they should have gotten up and say this is not right. Don’t sit down silently and say nothing and when the thing gone out of hand then now you are making a whole lot of noise when you allowed it in the first place. So again, he alone is not to be blamed,” Lewis submitted.
He said once there is change in leadership, the party can make a return to power. “Leadership change is the way to go…Come clean with the people and I think you will get better results. I don’t think the masses of the people are in love with the PPP,” Lewis said.
Biennial Delegates Congress was expected to be held in August, 2020, however, due to the protracted 2020 Elections and the COVID-19 pandemic, the congress was postponed. With no congress held to date, some PNCR members have accused Granger of stalling the process to prevent his removal but Lewis said COVID-19 is real and it is deadly.
“I believe COVID is real. I live in New York, and I know many people that fell victim to that, and so I understand the argument about COVID, and I think that the folks in Guyana don’t take it as serious as they really should,” he posited.
During his weekly Public Interest Show on Friday, the Leader of the PNCR said that a sub-committee of the party’s CEC is still working out the modalities of proposals for convening the Delegates Congress.
Traditionally, more than 1,200 delegates and observers would assemble at the party’s headquarters for Congress but, Granger said in light of the raging pandemic, that could be a super-spreader event which neither the state nor party could condone.
In Mr. Granger’s opinion, a small group of seven persons was on a campaign to exaggerate the issues relating to convening Congress despite being aware that huge gatherings were disallowed owing to the pandemic and plans were actively being made for a ‘virtual’ Congress to be held.
He also used the opportunity to explain the reason for several senior Party officials not returning to the National Assembly. “Some former MPs had already served at least three parliamentary terms of about 12-15 years and were an average of 62 years old while the average age of new entrants was 42 years. This was a deliberate policy to ensure 50-50 gender balance and give younger MPs an opportunity to lead the Party’s parliamentary thrust in the forthcoming ‘decade of development,’”, the Leader said in a statement.