By Dr Vishnu Bisram
Much scorn and criticism have been heaped at Opposition Leader Dr. Bharrat Jagdeo, General Secretary and de facto leader of the PPP.
The critics from within the PPP express the view that Jagdeo had his day and cannot take the party to power again. They are suggesting that Jagdeo retire from active politics having served as President for 12 years. But the fact is within the PPP, Bharrat Jagdeo is seen as the only one to hold the party together and to take it into government – that is the view of the public anyway in conversations I had with a random sample of people all over the country. He remains by far the most popular political figure in the country in opinion polls I conducted over the last three years.
Jagdeo’s towering personality and leadership ability overwhelms nemeses, and this make them feel insecure and intolerant if him. The PNC leadership is also afraid of him. Thus, they seek to take him off the political scene. He has a dynamic personality and within the PPP, he is the only one making a serious effort to bring people together. The truth is others in the party are not even making a meaningful effort to be a dynamic leader who can unite the opposition and bring healing around the country.
Over the years, I moved around Guyana quite a lot and engaged the public for their opinion on issues and on how they see political figures. What the public say about Jagdeo does not gel with the views of his critics that Jagdeo should head for political susnset. He is viewed as more cultivated and talented than everyone else in the PPP and in the ruling alliance. The people view most of the figures in PPP as lethargic and uninspiring. The public wants Jagdeo; they feel at ease with him and are confident he can return the good life they once had. It is noted that while other figures within the PPP have been reluctant to engage supporters or cannot find time to go out and court supporters, Jagdeo makes the time to do so. Jagdeo is respected by a majority of the voters. The public see him as a man of character. He is loved by farmers and workers and the lower class and even the business class who see him as the one who can turn around the economy.
For PPP, Jagdeo is the only one with any kind of charisma to attract party loyalists or the grass roots. Diplomats and the business leaders also said the same. The other potential leadership figures in the party are viewed as dull and dour and not engaging with the public. In addition, Jagdeo has much attraction and traction with the other side. During his tenure, there was ethnic harmony except for the period of terror attacks carried out by racists from the opposing side.
Even some supporters of other parties are gravitating towards Jagdeo. They remember the good economic times that prevailed under him except for the years of anti-PPP (anti-Indian) terror (jail break and the fineman violence). Jagdeo is the most likable and most popular within the party. Jagdeo will win an election if he were the PPP Presidential candidate and the election is free and fair. To that there is no doubt. Others within the PPP would face an uphill struggle for a victory similar to what Donald Ramotar experienced in 2011 and 2015; he lost by a seat on both occasions — with fraud denying him a victory.
Much of the ‘opposition’ to Jagdeo as leader of the PPP and as prospective Presidential candidate of his party has a dark side based on a mix of envy, fear of his candidacy, race and resentment of his achievement as a young man – the youngest President of a nation and brilliant economist who presided over positive growth. They envy his exposure to the world and the respect he has internationally. Jagdeo has easy access to the world and global leaders. He is still invited to global forums and world leaders seek him out. With regards to political retirement, it is noted that Jagdeo is still a young man in his mid 50s. He has vast experience in politics and in running an economy with a lot of contacts to benefit Guyana. He has international standing having served in various international organizations and being invited to global forums.
Jagdeo is popular and will defeat any ruling alliance candidate and they feel it is better to prevent him from running as President. One can even decipher a disturbing kind of racism indirectly coming from politicians of the ruling alliance. They often refer derisively to him. This train of racial resentment runs a long way and goes back to others who led the PPP. Cheddi Jagan and Janet Jagan encountered this kind of racism too. Recall the opposition to Cheddi as the consensus candidate for the PCD in 1992 because “he Indian”; it was said Africans and Mixed won’t vote for him. Jagan won anyway. The court will decide if Jagdeo can run again.
For all of his likability, Jagdeo is not above criticism. There is room for improvement. He has to allow others to function. He has to give political oxygen to aspirants. The PPP leader should work closely with others in the party to bring about unity (heal intra-party factions), and he should do more to engage opposition forces. He is on the right track in a recent speech calling on the opposition forces and labor unions to join him and the PPP in struggling for a better Guyana. An united opposition enhances the party’s electoral prospect.
The views expressed in this column are solely those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the THE WEST INDIAN.