New PNC Leader and the rule of law

The People’s National Congress (PNC) has just elected its new leader in the person of Aubrey Norton, a veteran of the party who was its chairman as far back as 1998, when he was unilaterally relieved of his position by then leader Hugh Desmond Hoyte. He had dared to challenge Hoyte, who reminded him that he was “his creature”. One should remember that as Hoyte sidelined the Burnhamites in the party to create his own base and remake the PNC in his own image, some of them like David Granger, Vincent Alexander and Aubrey Norton are now involved in the latest reinvention. And like the abused child that becomes the abusive parent, Granger repeated Hoyte’s move after 2015 with his cleansing of the old guard. It is most likely that Norton will go down this same road to ensconce members of his slate.
The perennial challenge for the PNC has been to deal forthrightly with its origin as a party created to curry favour with the colonial power that rejected the workings of democracy to choose the government that would lead Guyana to independence. Even as it insisted it had been “tutoring” Guyanese for over a century to govern themselves democratically. With the “Founder Leader” of the PNC, Forbes Burnham a devotee of Machiavelli, the cynicism of the British reinforced deep scars in the institutional memory of the PNC. The machinations of the US to secure its strategic interests in this hemisphere and underwrite riots that escalated into ethnic civil war in the 1960s further intensified the misanthropic nature of the PNC. The US’s turning of a blind eye to the blatant rigging of elections conducted by the PNC between 1968 and 1985 directly passed on that cynicism to junior PNC members such as Aubrey Norton who have now risen to the top of the heap.
It is rather serendipitous that today is the third anniversary of the passage of the No-Confidence Motion (NCM) that was brought by the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) against the A Partnership for National Unity/Alliance For Change (APNU/AFC) coalition Government that was in office due to its 33 to 32 majority in the National Assembly. What this should remind us of is that the PNC, of which Norton is a part, refused to accept this seminal test of the legitimacy of democratic representative governments in parliamentary democracies. They invoked the cockamamie assertion that while 33 was a “majority” to place it in government, it was not a majority to remove them. But the assertion satisfied the logic – such as it is – of the PNC, which demonstrates in its actions that democracy and the rule of law are mere words bereft of substance when it comes to holding on to the reins of power.
Norton was in the forefront of defending the PNC’s blatant attempt at rigging the March 2, 2020 elections. In fact, this helped earn him the notoriety that has now catapulted him into the leadership of the PNC through the vehemence with which he supported the labyrinthine manoeuvres of his cohorts that involved spreadsheets, bedsheets, raising of dead and emigrated voters and cussing out respected Caribbean leaders like Mia Mottley and Bruce Golding. Most recently, he was arrested for leading an illegal procession protesting the PPP/C Government’s vaccination programme.
The danger that Norton’s ascendance to the PNC’s leadership presents is that it most likely will intensify the extra-parliamentary tactics of “warlord politics” that characterised the post-1997-2001 era. The PNC started its tradition in this millennium of refusing to accept election results, save when it is favoured. Thus, we saw that the 2011 and 2015 elections, conducted with voters lists created through a “claims and objections” (C&O) process, were acceptable, because the Opposition achieved a majority in the National Assembly, but the result was rejected when it produced a PPP victory in 2020. Norton has already rejected the selection of the new GECOM Secretariat CEO and also declared that he will insist that a new voters list is a sine qua non for Local Government Elections.
Expect more confrontational extra-parliamentary politics.