It is understandable that the PNC, which was originally installed in office back in 1964 as one of the early instances of manipulated “regime change”, and remained there for twenty-eight years during its first iteration, is now complaining of being the victim of the same procedure in 2020. Knowing so intimately the games that can be played in the international arena, it cannot concede that it is possible for governments to be seated and unseated via democratic means, without fingers being placed on the scale.
Declassified US files from that era conclusively show that the PNC was assisted before and after the 1964 and 1968 elections, and afterwards. While he was the PPP Chairman between 1950 and 1955, Burnham could not be bothered with the minutiae of the party’s organisational work. He was consumed with his urge to oust Dr Jagan and become leader. His Machiavellian manoeuvrings, feints and back-room dealings, leading to the split in 1955, have been well recorded, and need no elaboration. The external help he received went a far way towards the success of the PNC-UF coalition that won the 1964 elections, but paradoxically stymied the development of a democratic party structure, since all efforts were focused on stoking Burnham’s ego and building his brand.
Even afterwards, in 1969 and then 1970, Burnham was recorded as having requested, and then receiving, US$5000 monthly from the US “303 Committee” to organise the PNC so as to attract supporters of the PPP. The Committee complained that, even with all that money (US$5000 was substantial funds back then), Burnham was siphoning off US$27,000 monthly from the US-funded and supplied flour mill.
But the PNC failed in weaning away PPP supporters, and was allowed to rig elections. Democracy then was never a feature of the PNC’s political praxis, both within and without, and it should have surprised no one that after the party lost the “free and fair” 1992 elections, leadership struggles rather than party building and expansion have characterised its trajectory. PNC Congresses were always more about acclaiming the Maximum Leader.
Desmond Hoyte, the uncharismatic “accidental President” after Burnham’s demise, then rigged the 1985 elections. He felt it necessary to remove the dominant “Burnhamite” faction, not by intra-party democratic means, but through a series of Machiavellian moves that would have done Burnham proud. After ousting his arch-rival Hamilton Green, he did attempt to democratically widen the PNC’s appeal, but it was too little too late, and he lost the 1992 elections. His successor, Robert Corbin, was accepted, not for his “democratic credentials”, but because he was reputationally capable of being able to “manners” the PPP during a period of direct, violent attacks against the state.
It was not to be, and, in the meantime, the PNC’s Biennial Congresses were all manipulated – primarily by procedural rules that front-loaded delegates’ selection based on the leader’s preferences. While Corbin has been acclaimed for stepping aside after a decade in the saddle, it should be noted that his successor, David Granger, was handpicked by him. And he was not installed democratically, but though the old, manipulated practices of delegates’ selection and delegate-vote tabulation, which were widely condemned as undemocratic. Yet, those who lost out eventually fell into line, and thus denied the party an opportunity to instill a democratic ethos and praxis in its membership and leadership.
And we arrive at the present contretemps, where several challengers to the continued leadership of David Granger are questioning his “democratic” credentials or lack thereof, and demanding that he step down. The contradiction they are caught in is that, as Leader of the party, Granger is in control of the “official” apparatus, which was always used to stymie internal party democracy. We can see what is going to play out in Granger’s first comment to the challengers: he dubbed them as “phantoms” who have yet to lay a motion for his removal directly in the 35-member CEC.