Give Thanks to Robert Corbin

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It is difficult to accurately predict political behavior. What is true for fifty years could change in a day. Guyana’s recent elections have proven the validity of that formulation. All of us got it wrong, even if we got some parts right. The narrow victory by the APNU+AFC Coalition at the 2015 election went against the traditional grain in Guyanese politics. The conventional wisdom has been that, given our entrenched ethnic voting patterns, it was near impossible for the party whose base lies outside the Indian Guyanese constituency to win a majority of the votes.

That changed in 2011 when the total of APNU and AFC votes surpassed that of the PPP. As commentators and politicians begun to contemplate the possibility that a joint APNU+AFC slate could actually win, there were some questions. The big one was whether the votes accumulated by the APNU+AFC in 2011 as separate contestants could be replicated if they join together in a coalition. Some, including this writer, were skeptical. Those who felt it was possible to win premised their calculations on the ethnic identity of the Presidential candidate. They argued that since you could not win the PPP without pulling away a significant section of the Indian Guyanese electorate, it was better to have an Indian Guyanese presidential candidate.

In the end all of us were wrong to some extent. First, the Coalition defeated the PPP. And it did even as the ethnic voting pattern remained intact. Second, the PPP got 49% of the votes. Those who predicted a Coalition victory did not bargain for such a good showing by the PPP. Third, the Coalition won with an African Guyanese Presidential candidate. More analysis is needed to determine the real causes of these outcomes. But the one thing we know for certain is that the presence of the Coalition made a difference. It had a great psychological effect on the Opposition constituency; it gave them a sense of confidence that their votes could make a difference. The dynamics of Partnership politics are complex. I am sure that some members of the PNC feel that the party gave up too much to the APNU and to the Coalition. Such thinking, while understandable, however, loses sight of the big picture.

Many persons and groups can lay claim to being the architects of the end product, but I would single out three of those for special mention—WPA’s Professor Clive Thomas and Dr. Rupert Roopnarine and PNC’s Robert Corbin. Since Thomas and Roopnarine are my colleagues, I would not elaborate on their roles just yet. I do not know Robert Corbin outside of politics. My political contact with him occurred during the run-up to the 2011 elections when I was occasionally part of The WPA’s delegation, and he led the PNC’s delegation at APNU leadership meetings.
From as far back as the run-up to the 2006 election Corbin signaled his intention to decisively break with the One-PNC tradition. He was bold enough to court the WPA. This took courage. The PNC-WPA rivalry was perhaps the most intense in Guyana’s political history. Corbin was ready for the plunge even if many in the PNC’s leadership were not ready. The WPA was not ready in 2006. Emotions still flared. The AFC came on the scene and took away part of the PNC’s constituency. The PNC recorded their lowest showing in an election,

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But by 2011 they were ready to take the plunge. Corbin was still there. I got the sense that unlike most of his colleagues, he had freed himself from the myth that the PNC could win an election on its own. But more than that, I think he reasoned that the vote that went to the AFC could be won back by a Coalition. He had become a soldier for Coalition politics, even if he was not the top candidate.
He worked for it. He had to navigate the WPA’s demands and that party’s unorthodox political culture. But he stuck with the project, even as some of his colleagues thought the WPA brought nothing to the table and the PNC should go it alone. The AFC was not ready for the Coalition, but Corbin was never daunted. In the end he delivered the APNU to a skeptical PNC. The 2011 election proved him right. The APNU brought back the traditional PNC constituency together. By 2015, the AFC could join the Partnership. The AFC would have never joined the PNC by itself. They joined the APNU. The rest is history. Robert Corbin led the way. He had the early vision.

Corbin stepped aside for Granger. It is no longer a secret that the Coalition while in government treated the foundation architects with scant respect. It is more than a minor flaw in the Guyanese political culture. Robert Corbin was never given the credit he deserves even by his own party. Perhaps it is something Aubrey Norton should correct. Give thanks to Robert.



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