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Congratulations to Mr. Aubrey Norton for decisively winning the PNCR leadership contest by, together with his team, conducting a well-crafted campaign that focused on the main concerns and requirements of his constituency and Guyana today. The PNC continues to be the country’s most democratic political party: gone are the days when a few apparatchiks conferenced among themselves and determined who should lead. Many liberal democracies have established arrangements such as primaries to avoid ‘the iron law of oligarchy’. The PNC did this for the 2011 elections and while it faltered somewhat for the 2015 elections, and the present COVID environment has curtailed the present possibilities, we must hope that in this regard the party is back on track. Mr. Vincent Alexander did an excellent job in pulling off a free, fair and uncontroversial election to a point where many persons are wondering why national elections cannot proceed as smoothly.
The mere fact that such a question is being asked suggests that the consequences inherent in holding competitive national elections in an ethnically divided society are still not properly understood. These were not national elections in which the stakes were high and/or one ethnic group feared domination by the other. I have had occasion to point to a similar situation during the 2016 local government elections in Beterverwagting Village. The PNCR being in control of national government and with little chance of the Africans in the constituency being locally ethnically dominated by the Indians, a type of intra-PNC war broke out that led to the withdrawal the official PNC group from those elections (SN:18/05/2016). Mr. Norton is victorious and there is much to be assessed, organised and implemented.
Some have been concerned about the long term internal and external consequences of the quarrels between the candidates and their supporters that took place before the elections. These are only viewed with alarm because this level of democratic participation in leadership choice is unfamiliar to a population that has been imprisoned by forms ‘democratic centralism’. Remember the quarrels between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama during the 2008 democratic primaries, which one newspaper captioned ‘Clinton and Obama exchange insults as Democratic campaign debate gets personal – Televised duel is most vicious yet in contest.’ https://www.theguardian.com/world/2008/ jan/22/hillaryclinton.uselections2008. Yet Clinton was later appointed Obama’s Secretary of State and the Obama was one of her main supporters during her 2016 campaign for the presidency. That said, bearing in mind that the individual parties will have to face off at a national elections, one has to be restrained in one’s portrayal of colleagues. By his utterances and the few appointments he has already made Aubrey suggests that he understands the dynamics of internal political competition.
There is much talk about Norton having won by a landslide, so let us enquire what the numbers, such as they are, actually suggest. On the introduction of the primary-type approach for choosing its presidential candidate/leader in 2011, there were some 666 delegates with David Granger and Carl Greenidge gaining respectively 279 and 264 votes, equaling 543 or 81.5% of the total available votes. In 2012, there were 1,000 delegates and Granger and Greenidge received 650 and 240 respectively, a total of 890 or 89% of the total available votes. This time there were 2,500 delegates with Norton, Harmon and Richard Van West Charles receiving 967, 245 and 67 votes respectively: a total of 1,276 or 51% of the available votes. From another direction, in 2011, 2012 and 2021 the winner took 42%, 65% and 39% respectively of the available votes but 51%, 65% and 76% of those who voted.
On the face of it, a 51% turnout is historically extremely low, and Norton taking only 39% of the votes is also an historic low. In both of the elections in which he participated, David Granger, received a larger percentage of the available votes than Norton, who does not have the support of the bulk (about 60%) of the party membership. Yet Norton took 76% of those who voted – a landslide! All manner of explanations are proffered for the low turnout, e.g. the total number of delegates was much larger, the individual delegates may have been chosen differently and at a significantly longer period from the elections, communications breakdown as a result of the virtual nature of the Congress, and so on. However, it is difficult to reject the conclusion that the membership of the PNCR was disappointed with the choices presented to them and Mr. Norton’s supporters are essentially those who prioritised his no-nonsense approach towards the PPP.
How to unite and activate his party and develop a winning national strategy is the challenge. Mr. Norton should not allow the PPP and it numerous propagandists to set his agenda. The PPP would love to sidetrack the PNC to less divisive issues having to do with climate change, the border controversy, corruption etc. These are important issues, upon which the PNCR’s positions are well known and are unlikely to substantially change. Indeed, in the context of the elections manipulation that has been taking place and is rarely accounted for in voter participation analysis, I am not convinced that in our ethnic environment being corrupt has proven to be a major electoral disadvantage.
Given the many accusations of political abuse and discrimination by the present ruling regime, the strategic focus must be upon elections and electioneering, i.e., who rules, and a vital component of this has to be the development of an inclusive national strategy.