The PNC-R leadership race

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The race for the top leadership position of the People’s National Congress Reform (PNC-R) has now gathered some steam with the entry of Joseph Harmon, the Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly. Other declared contenders are firebrand, Aubrey Norton and Dr Richard Van-West Charles, son-in-law of the party’s founder-leader, Forbes Burnham. Although Harmon’s entry was not unexpected, it has generated a lot of interest, partly because he is seen as an ally of outgoing leader, former president, David Granger.

Unlike the other two contenders, who announced their candidacies on the social media programme, Politics 101, Harmon had a formal launch replete with endorsements from APNU members of parliament. Significantly, the current General Secretary, Amna Ally, was in attendance, a signal that the party’s establishment may be in Harmon’s corner. It should be remembered that at the last congress, he was defeated by current chairperson, Volda Lawrence, in a three-way race for the second most powerful position in the party. Harmon was then viewed as the outsider while Lawrence was dubbed the establishment candidate.

If that theory is true, what has changed? Since the coalition’s defeat at the 2020 election, there has been a realignment of sorts in the party. With his elevation to the leadership of the party in the National Assembly by the party leader and the sidelining of Lawrence and other longstanding leaders such as Norton and Van West-Charles, Harmon has become the establishment leader while the others are being seen as “rebels.” Indeed, the race is shaping up as a contest between the Granger faction versus the rebels.

Even as one makes that point, it should be noted that the so-called rebels do not constitute a single cohesive bloc as can be seen by the entry into the race by Van West-Charles. It is still not known whether Lawrence would throw her hat into the race. If she does then that would add a further twist to the scenario. There is no indication that she is inclined to run, but her entry would ignite a four-way race that could be bruising. What seems to be clear is that Harmon’s candidacy signals that Granger is not running.

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If one were to assess the race based on social media sentiments of the party’s supporters, Aubrey Norton emerges as the favourite. However, it is known that the leader is chosen by congress delegates. And this is where Norton’s challenges begin. Although he is a popular party member, he seems to have ruffled a lot of feathers among the party’s establishment leaders along the way. His aggressive demeanor has always been a problem in a political culture that frowns on that approach to politics.

He, Norton, belongs to the intellectual activist wing of the party. He is intelligent and has a very good political mind. However, his asset to the PNC at this moment is his reputation as a no-nonsense leader who is not afraid to confront his opponents. At a time when the PPP is perceived to be running roughshod over the opposition, he is seen as just the man for the moment. Whether the party is ready to go in that direction at the apex of its leadership set-up is yet to be seen. The suggestion that Norton’s criticisms of the PPP’s racial policies could alienate the party’s Indian Guyanese members and supporters is unfortunate. But it is something that Norton would have to confront in a party that has never been comfortable addressing the concerns and fears of its major African Guyanese supporters.

As far as Harmon is concerned, his chances depend on whether the PNC is in the mood to again turn its leadership over to a “non-party person. “He is part of the army group that came to the party with Granger when the latter assumed the leadership position. But given the underlying disappointment with Granger’s stewardship, Harmon would have a lot of convincing to do if he is to prevail. If he does, it would signal that the party has forgiven Granger for his perceived miss-steps. While many persons have not given Van West-Charles much of a chance, he could emerge as a consensus choice if the race between the other two gets tight and nasty. Whatever happens, we are in for an interesting couple of months in the countdown to the PNC-R Congress.



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