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Guyana countdown

Rickey Singh

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WITH ONE year to go before Guyana’s next presidential and parliamentary elections, the combined opposition parties seem to be in a state of confusion, if not panic, over their intention to prevent the governing People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) from returning to power.Since winning the 1992 general election, with a restoration of the electoral democracy – suspended for 24 years, from 1968 by a then governing People’s National Congress (PNC) – the PPP/C has been successively returned to state power at internationally-supervised elections.Its presidential leadership candidates have been, first, Dr Cheddi Jagan, second, Janet Jagan (both deceased), then President Bharrat Jagdeo, for the last two elections.For the 2011 poll, expected not later than early September, both of the major parties – PPP and PNCReform (PNCR) – will have new presidential candidates. The PNCR is currently seeking to “identify by a transparent process”, according to General Secretary Oscar Clarke, its presidential candidate. The party’s current, and often embattled leader, Robert Corbin, has made it clear that he would not be a presidential candidate for the 2011 poll. He led the party to defeats at the last two elections. Much interestThis, of course, does not mean that Corbin intends to voluntarily vacate the party’s leadersip any time soon. Hence there’s much interest in how he remains party leader while someone else gets the nod by a promised “transparent system” as presidential candidate for 2011.For its part, the governing PPP/C is yet to give a clear signal about its likely presidential choice. The incumbent and popular President Jagdeo is constitutionally debarred from seeking a third term.The two PPP stalwarts most referenced in the media as potential presidential candidates, are the party’s General Secretary Donald Ramotar, and the lawyer and current Speaker of Parliament, Ralph Ramkarran. Question of interest would be the “transparent system” to be utilised by both the PPP and PNCR in determining their respective democratically-endorsed presidential candidate. The guessing game could run into late September while the party’s hierarchy continues to project optimism for a return to power.Identifying a presidential candidate is also very much a problem for the Alliance For Change (AFC) that had presented itself as an alternative to both the PPP/C and PNCR at the August 2006 elections, only to end up with five parliamentary seats – at least two of them at the expense of the PNCR. Not clearCurrently, it is unclear whether the AFC’s leader Raphael Trotman will again be given the nod as the 2011 presidential candidate. Or, will it be the party’s chairman Khemraj Ramjattan who feels it’s his turn in a pledged rotation system? Both lawyers, Trotman and Ramjattan, had defected from the PNC and PPP respectively to lead the AFC into the 2006 election.As it is with respect to the PPP’s Ramotar and Ramkarran, who have made clear their interest in securing the presidential candidate prize, so also have Trotman and Ramjattan made known their desire to get the AFC’s “presidential” nod for the 2011 poll. However, both have admitted to internal dissension. What seems to unite the combined opposition – PNCR, AFC, plus the WPA (Working People’s Alliance), etc – is a shared passionate opposition to the PPP again winning state power in 2011.Against the backdrop of this electioneering scenario came a very sharp swipe last week by PNCR leader Corbin against a so-called “Citizens’ Initiative Group” (CIG) emerging to influence party politics for the 2011 poll.The fledgling “Demerara Waves” – an internet radio and podcast programme – of August 7 has reported Corbin as being quite dismissive of the legitimacy of the CIG in its ambition to mount a credible civil society-based alternative to the established parties for the 2011 poll.In contrast to the readiness of the AFC to embrace the CIG, whose movers and shakers remain faceless, Corbin has cynically observed that this “citizens” group “has no constituency”.Any serious observer of party politics in Guyana, and familiar with the structures and identified personalities of what’s recognised as “civil society” organisations/groups, should have no difficulties in concurring with the view of Corbin about the CIG.If, as of now the opposition parties cannot demonstrate a capacity to get their acts together for a common platform for the 2011 poll, then what can the so-called “citizens’ group” really hope to achieve?Question, for a start, is from what section of the labour movement the established non-government organisations and the business or religious communities does it really hope to garner support to influence a meaningful contest against the PPP? What already exists as a “JOPP” – Joint Opposition Political Parties – involving the PNCR and minor parties such as the WPA, Guyana Action Party (GAP and a National Front Alliance (NFA), continue to struggle for credibility as a combined alternative to the PPP.As it is with “JOPP”, so it is with the AFC – displays of nervousness. Political nervousness over any media report of a likely pre-election “alliance” or “arrangement” between the PPP/C and the PNCR. Just follow the hostile, if not panic responses, to speculative reportings whenever there’s a meeting between President Jagdeo and the PNCR’s Corbin. Guyana seems to be heading for much political fun and confusion and also panic responses as it moves into the year for elections 2011.At the August 2006 elections, the PPP/C was returned to power for a consecutive fourth term with 54.06 per cent of the valid votes and 36 of the 65 National Assembly seats. The PNCR obtained its 22 seats with 34 per cent of the votes; while the AFC secured its five seats with just over eight per cent of valid ballots. Under the proportional representation system two minority parties received one seat each.