In the US, the term “coattail politics” has been around for over a hundred years. It refers to the impact a candidate may have on voting for the rest of his slate. A popular and charismatic leader would pull votes for candidates who might be relatively unknown. Kind of like a halo effect!! Trump’s coattails were deployed in 2016 when his popularity vaulted the Republicans not only into the White House but to control the House and the Senate!! Now, the effect can go the other way with an unpopular leader!
In Guyana, while we’ve had charismatic and popular leaders, because of the polarised ethnic politics, folks voted as much for the political party they concluded represented THEIR group than anything else!! But in the recently concluded PNC internal leadership elections – since there was no possibility of “splitting the vote” to let those dastardly PPPites in – we witnessed for the first time in our already complex politics, the effect of a popular leader’s “coattail”. Rather than running on their own for “Leader of the PNC”, Norton and Harmon fielded SLATES for all the top positions. This, of course, deepened the possible schisms in the party since former comrades in the trenches were running against each other. And few would have the diplomatic aplomb of their leaders to not be snide!! Anyhow, when the dust settled, opponents saw the incredible effect of Norton’s coattail – that had him slaughter Harmon with FOUR times the latter’s votes!!
The Chair, First Vice Chair and Treasurer all were from Norton’s slate and the 2nd Vice Chair was a tie between another of his candidates and PNC’s Chris JONES!! The votes for the Chair were absolutely astounding – a total unknown schoolteacher from Agricola TROUNCED the very popular Attorney Amanza Desir, Roysdale Forde, Gary Best AND former Reg 10 Chairman Sharma Solomon!! The Treasurer went to an unknown 22-year-old neophyte who destroyed Vanessa Kissoon, Karen Cummings and Daniel Seeram!
Your Eyewitness expects that Norton will show “magnanimity” by agreeing to Chris Jones becoming the 2nd Vice Chair. But when all is said and done, he’ll emerge as an unstoppable force in the new PNC. All the newbies KNOW they owe their position to HIS coattail and will not just genuflect but kowtow to him. He said early on – as the votes showed him taking the lead – that he won’t be a “maximum” leader. But seriously, folks, can anyone see Shurwayne Holder, Mohammed Mursalene or Elizabeth Williams DISAGREEING with Norton on ANY issue?
All of this deference will inevitably go to his head – it will become his expected norm. All those who were chums will now have to become much more circumspect around him.
He’s now über Alles!!
The fact that Norton’s success wasn’t dependent on anybody on his slate bringing in support – but were just “young faces” he brought in, must be considered from another angle. If he was really serious about NOT being a maximum leader, he could’ve run for the leader’s position and then accepted those other officers who were elected by the membership on their own popularity. But this would’ve meant that he had to accept their independent power base and bargain with them on issues. Real democracy.
But all he has around him now – because of his strategic decision on fielding a slate – are sycophants! And this is where lies the danger to a positive political culture in Guyana. As the saying goes – “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely”!! “Corrupt” not necessarily as in raiding the treasury, but corrupt as in wielding power in an undemocratic fashion because the majority of his party’s officials will look at him for instructions!!
Unchecked power is always unstable – and dangerous.
As we saw with Trump in the US, the leader with large coattails will have the freedom to pander to his idiosyncratic view of politics. In the new year, Norton’s “street fighter” compulsions will see him there.