WHEN Mr. Aubrey Norton was elected the new leader of PNC/R in December 2021 having defeated former PNC/R strongman, Joseph Harmon, that moment signalled a new direction of the party. However, subsequent developments indicate that it is not a new direction but a rendezvous with the history and strategy of the PNC/R that helped to shape his leadership style. Mr. Norton drew inspiration from PNC founder Mr. LFS Burnham and embraces President Desmond Hoyte’s street tactics.
Like Mr. Burnham, Mr. Norton enjoys wielding centralised power. A Daily News report of 9/20/22 states: “Autocracy creeping up in PNC under Norton.” The story continues: “The Leader seems more concerned with surrounding himself with ‘yes men and women’ that he can control and tell what to do.” Whatever strategy Mr. Norton is using is not working, according to Temple University LAPOP poll. This finding is also supported by PNC/R members/activists who point grudgingly to the inspirational leadership style of President, Dr Irfaan Ali.
PNC/R activist, Norman Browne wrote: “President Ali is in every nook and cranny dressed like a regular street man, sitting on the ground with the poor, playing dominoes with our brothers and sisters and eating mangoes and drinking coconut water from the chopped-out hole of the coconut. People love that. He offers them help but countless would be happy just to know he grounded with them while looking like them. Meanwhile, our opposition confabulation is replete with disunity and division and unable to match the PPP’s energetic strides among the grassroots. The current Leader of the Opposition is failing miserably with regards to grassroots representation.” (SN: 8/31/22).
Is this reported failure of the PNC/R leadership also connected with the marginalisation of well-known PNC/R members: Basil Williams, Dr. George Norton, Ronald Bulkan, Joseph Harmon, President David Granger, Winston Jordan, Amna Ally, Dr. Van West Charles, James Bond, Simona Broomes, and Robert Corbin, many of whom played an important role in the attempted electoral heist of 2020?
Like Mr. LFS Burnham, Mr. Norton views his party supporters (mostly Afro-Guyanese) as victims of a system calculated to defeat them. He therefore feels that his primary role is to carry out an aggressive campaign to not only to change the system to reduce or eliminate perceived inequity and perceived race victimisation. It is doubtful if he considers that his leading role is head of the “government in waiting.” But why does his perception of inequity and racial victimisation apply only under PPP/C governance? Under the PNC administration did Mr Norton find any evidence of inequity or racial victimisation? Unlike Mr. Burnham, Mr. Norton does not fully appreciate the critical importance of ‘image’ and ‘leadership style’ in politics.
Mr. Norton’s combative approach was aptly demonstrated again on Monday 9/18/22 after which the Attorney-General (AG), Anil Nandlall had to admonish him for making several misleading statements against the PPP/C Government for seizing Afro-Guyanese lands and giving them to PPP/C supporters (meaning Indo-Guyanese). The AG believes that was a racist position designed to incite inter-group tension. The Prime Minister, Brigadier (r’td) Mark Phillips has also rejected false narratives. “As an Afro-Guyanese myself from the town of Linden, I am proud to be part of the PPP/C administration where all Guyanese, inclusive of Afro-Guyanese, have equal access to opportunities and where national policies and programmes are never influenced by race.”
Nothing is wrong with fighting to defend and protect the rights of his supporters, but Norton’s cases must be evidence-driven, and not guided by emotion or hearsay or false theory. The AG produced evidence to refute Norton’s allegations.
The victimisation theory has allowed Mr. Norton and his party to apply the concept of ‘apartheid’ to Guyana. This is most unfortunate. Apartheid is an institutional system based on convoluted values and an ideology of racial superiority/inferiority which regulates social stratification patterns in areas such as housing, education, residential neighbourhoods, jobs, and governance. Blacks and Browns are condemned to the lowest level at every institution, and their freedom of expression, freedom to travel, human rights are violated with impunity. Apartheid is a ‘tale of multiple segregated neighbourhoods’ structured and regulated according to race (colour).
It is ingenious therefore to identify a perceived deficiency (race discrimination or race inequity) in public policy on housing and land allocations, for example, and try to squeeze this into a slot of an apartheid system that only exists in the minds of some Guyanese. This startling embrace of apartheid is an abuse of reason as well as of scholarship.
The PNC/R can do better than making unsubstantiated claims of discrimination. Despite their mediocre performance in office (2015-2020), they lost the 2020 elections by only 2.7 per cent. Had they responded to the concerns of the public and not ignore their calls for help, they would have been in a better place. By preaching apartheid now they are weakening their chances of electoral victory in 2025. How would they be able to break down the segregation barrier that they have erected to increase their share of votes in 2025? Any apartheid system would not allow cross-over voting. The reality is that there is no apartheid and the PPP/C and PNCR+AFC, need cross-over votes to win an election.
It is within the competence of the PNC/R to create an effective political strategy, However, Mr. Norton and his party must first address some necessary pre-requisites. (1) He should apologise on behalf of his party to put the country through five months of post- election trauma. (2) He should have conceded that his party was wrong not to accept the findings of the CoI into the sugar industry and thus prevented 7,000 workers from joining the bread line. (3) He should stop referring to the President and his government as “installed.” (4) He must strive to create a strong opposition (government in waiting). (5) He, like other leaders, must renounce racism and street violence as political tools. (6) He should defuse his confrontational approach and replace it with rapprochement. Finally, if Norton wants to become a national Leader, he must be able to transcend his own party boundaries and reach out to all segments of the society. If he does all or most of the above things, he would be on the path to narrow or even eliminate the gap in political support between PPP/C and PNC/R.
Dr Tara Singh