By Dr Tara Singh
I have read several letters, articles, and social media reports that point out the undistinguished leadership of the APNU leader, Mr. Aubrey Norton. His leadership has come under the microscope over the past year and especially in the context of the impending Local Government Elections, 2023 (LGE 2023) to be held on June 12, 2023.
Mr. Norton has been blamed for the APNU LGE 2023 uninspiring campaign. Here are some factors cited by critics: (1) Mr. Norton has alienated non-Afro Guyanese members of his PNCR party. (2) Mr. Norton’s call for transparency and accountability received a backlash when his former Treasurer of the PNCR alleged that he was asked on several occasions to sign blank checks. (3) Mr. Norton has allegedly marginalized senior PNCR members, like Dr Van West Charles, who stated publicly that his position as advisor to Mr. Norton was just tokenism. (5) Mr. Norton’s penchant to refer to the PPPC government as “installed,” and his refusal to shake the hand of President Dr Irfaan Ali suggests a confrontational approach. (6) If indeed the Professor from Arizona, the man who said that GECOM should burn the 2020 election ballot boxes and order fresh elections, is an advisor to Mr. Norton, could that be the explanation for the politics of confrontation?
I have watched several videos of Mr. Norton campaigning. It is hard to say whether these were in fact campaign events. The crowds are small in numbers, and they are devoid of energy and exuberance. Mr. Norton is hardly seen with senior leaders. Mr. M Yonge and other critics have pointed to internal conflicts, including power struggle, in the PNCR party.
If this is correct, then campaigning for LGE 2023 becomes extremely difficult for PNCR/APNU. This also helps to explain why the APNU Parliamentary opposition has not been performing in accordance with its supporters’ and others’ expectations. Currently, the APNU opposition is not viewed as a viable alternate government.
Some critics point to the leadership shown by Dr Bharrat Jagdeo from 2015 onwards when the PPPC lost the National and Regional Elections. The PPPC was in a tough situation in 2015 after that electoral loss. Senior members were dejected and emotionally paralyzed for some time after which a glimmer of hope burst forth out of their despondency. They decided to approach Dr Bharrat Jagdeo, who earlier had retired from active politics, to take over the leadership of the PPPC. The force of history could not reverse, and Dr Jagdeo had to play the role he was called upon to save his party and positioned it for greater things to come. As an astute political strategist, he immediately began a process to recalibrate the PPPC and change its direction.
Dr Jagdeo focused on structural changes and began recruiting more young people into the party who have the energy to push forth the party’s agenda. It was not a case where the older party members were pushed aside but they were assigned different roles. Having been conscious of various United Nations Declarations on Rights, Dr Jagdeo began recruiting more women and non-Indo Guyanese persons into the PPPC party, as part of his diversity and inclusive vision.
Senior members of the PPPC are expected to go into the fields to mobilize support, attend to people’s concerns, and always be available to respond to their needs. He leads by example in this regard. The message from Dr Jagdeo is clear: “party members must not visit villages/neighborhoods only at election times but regularly and work aggressively to solve their problems.”
Dr Bharrat Jagdeo recognizes that the PPPC lost their Parliamentary majority in 2011 and lost the government at the National and Regional Elections in 2015 partly because the grass roots mobilization that was the foundation of the PPPC party had withered. Apart from loyalty to the party’s mission, another important value he inculcates among members is discipline in the conduct of party’s affairs.
This approach has led to a revolution in the style of governance in Guyana. President Dr Irfaan Ali has been leading the way in taking government to the people. Governance is no longer centrally directed from air- conditioned offices but it operates in the villages and neighborhoods. This approach allows for easier and effective communication with citizens. In the past, citizens had difficulty accessing government ministers and top policy makers. This has changed under the charismatic leadership of Dr Jagdeo and President Ali.
Critics say that the APNU lacks charismatic leadership. The PNCR had charismatic leaders in Mr. LFS Burnham and Mr. Desmond Hoyte. Charisma plays a huge part in politics. However, to compensate for an apparent lack of charisma, a leader could lay out a sharp vision and a plan for a development path that brings a good life and reduces inequalities and poverty among the population.
While the PPPC has an advantage at the LGE 2023 based on polls, it would not be wise to rule out the performance of any political party, including APNU. Several factors could hurt the results such as low turnouts as expressed in the possibilities of complacency, inertia, and severe weather conditions. Whether the huge red waves turn out to actual votes would be tested on June 12, 2023. Several lessons would be learnt from LGE 2023 which could benefit all political parties.
The views expressed in this article are those of the writers and do not necessarily represent the position or policy of the THE WEST INDIAN.