Would the new PNCR Leader seek to repair his party’s battered image?

Dear Editor,
With the dark clouds of the 2020 regional and national elections still hovering above, PNCR operatives appear to calm fears about electoral irregularity by conducting a ‘free and fair’ internal election to choose their leaders. It was critical that the PNCR show to the country and the world that, despite their intransigence during the 5-month post-2020 election saga, they have not abandoned the democratic way.
However, while the PNCR party has elected new leaders, this does not necessarily mean that they will bring visionary leadership to the party and the country. The challenges ahead are numerous, and the most formidable one is not only about consolidating their (PNCR) base, but also about expanding their reach across ethnic lines. It is not only the PNCR, but all political parties need to seek support across ethnic lines. While the PPPC and PNCR have historically received cross-ethnic support from Amerindians and Mixed, each major ethnic group (Indo-Guyanese and Afro-Guyanese) has been unable to make a similar impact on each other.
The AFC had begun to make a breakthrough in ethnic-based voting in 2006, built upon that in 2011, and picked up momentum in 2015. Those Guyanese voted on issues, and not race.
The demographics of the country are changing rapidly, as well as its social conditions. About 60% of the population is below 35 years. This age group does not necessarily have a penchant for “the old politics” (except those interested in history, or a political career); instead, they are more interested in NOW and the FUTURE. A pragmatic and hedonistic ideology drives their needs. They want to know who could better lead them to realise the good life. Time is not on their side.
With such a transformation in attitudes, it is becoming apparent that the force of race in voting preference would gradually weaken, and be replaced with reason (informed choice). Issues, and not race, have begun to creep towards centre stage, as evidenced in the two previous elections (2015 and 2020).
This movement (advancing issues and reason) picked up steam in 2011 when other political parties, particularly the AFC, had been able to attract a substantial amount of traditional PPPC voters. This inroad into the PPPC base had caused the PPPC to lose its Parliamentary majority following the 2011 polls. The movement continued to expand its growth into 2015, when the APNU+AFC coalition cracked further the PPPC traditional base by securing the support of 11% of its voters. These crossover voters were persuaded by the coalition’s position on issues which were forcefully articulated by the APNU+AFC leaders. They declared their “Sermon on the Mount” message that sugar was sacred; it was too big to fail; and that they would not close the sugar industry. Instead, they would grant sugar workers a 20% pay hike, while promising rice farmers $9,000 per bag of paddy. Those traditional PPPC voters bought into those messages, and cast their ballots for the coalition based on issues, and not on race.
The PPPC hopes that its efforts to break into the PNCR traditional base would ultimately result in some measure of success. The PPPC realises that its traditional base has shrunk sharply from the 1990s to comprise less than 36% of the country’s total voters. It’s continued viability, therefore, depends on a sustained cross-ethnic outreach, buttressed with effective policies and programmes.
The new PNCR leaders have a similar challenge. Their traditional voter base has also shrunk (but to a lesser extent than the PPPC); it comprises about 28% of the voting population. For its political viability, the PNCR must move beyond its base and seek cross-ethnic support. However, before planning its strategy as an Opposition party and as a potential governing party, some fundamental concerns must be addressed by the new leader.
Now that the PNCR has a new leader, Mr. Aubrey Norton, and it has carried out one of the basic principles of democracy, i.e., free, and fair election, Guyanese have the reasonable expectation that the leader and his team would continue to walk the democratic track. One of the leader’s top priorities should be to repair the battered image of the PNCR following the 2020 regional and national elections.
At a legal and constitutional level, he must sort out the power anomaly: in a context where he is neither the Leader of the Opposition nor the Leader of the APNU-AFC Parliamentary List (when the PPPC was in the Opposition, all these titles were properly occupied by one person). Additionally, he must clarify the PNCR’s relationship with the smaller parties in APNU, particularly the AFC. There are a few critical issues surrounding the battered image of the PNCR that require quick action.
Image, like charisma, plays a significant role in politics. To repair the PNCR’s battered image, therefore, the leader needs to set in motion a series of corrective actions. (1) Since PNCR operatives have been accusing and demonising Caricom leaders of complicity with the PPPC just because they support free and fair election results, shouldn’t the new leader apologise to Caribbean leaders whom they have vilified? (2) Would the new leader consider apologising to the nation for his party’s behaviour during the 5-month post-election saga? (3) Would the new leader denounce and reject racism and violence as political tools? (4) Would the new leader recognise the legally elected PPPC Government, a status recognised by 100 countries, including all Western democracies: the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, European Union, as well as by international organisations such as Caricom, Organization of American States, and the Commonwealth? Failure to resolve these and other issues would not work to his advantage.
The country and the international community are watching. Guyana needs a good and effective Opposition, a ‘government in waiting,’ to preserve democracy and ensure accountability.

Dr Tara Singh