The Sources of the PNC’s current Intra-Party problems
The origins of the PNC’s leadership struggle lay partly in the party’s tenure in office as the senior member of the APNU+AFC Coalition and partly in disagreements over how to handle the five-month impasse that followed the 2020 election. During the Coalition’s tenure Mr. Granger emerged as a very strong maximum leader. He was Leader of the party, Leader of the APNU, Leader of the Government and Head of State. He was also officially chair of Cabinet which turned out to be the only functioning council of the Coalition. At the 2015 election he became Leader (Representative) of the Coalition’s electoral list.
That was a lot of power concentrated in one person even for a party and country that are accustomed to maximum leaders. What was worse is that there was little or no institutional or informal checks and balances on his power. That turned out to be a colossal blunder as Mr. Granger opted for a style of management that utilized the power at his disposal without much consultation within the PNC, the APNU and the broader coalition. Over time, that inevitably turned into what sections of his party now calls a “one man show.”
History has shown that very few leaders with such enormous powers at their disposal avoid becoming dictatorial. The top leadership in the interest of party and government solidarity within a very polarized country appeared to tolerate the situation. It was only when they became direct victims of it first after March 2 and again after August 2 that they began to rebel . When the leader showed no interest in softening his use of the formal and informal powers at his disposal the situation quickly evolved into the open conflict we now see. It is really a conflict between a leader who is relying on the letter of the party’s constitution and the Coalition arrangements (the formal-legal powers in his hands) and a rebel faction which is relying on the collective spirit of these instruments.
The other source of the current showdown is the disagreements over tactics and strategies that emerged during the five-month impasse. Apparently, there were disagreements over issues such as the Recount, over how to respond to the foreign pressures and whether to hand over power in what turned out to be a disputed election. There are charges that the leader acted unilaterally on these matters which had implications beyond the party. There also appears to have been differences over how to respond after the PPP government was installed. But the final nail in the coffin was when the leader used his power as Representative of the list to unilaterally keep senior party leaders (who under normal circumstances would have gone to parliament ) from serving as MPs.
It is extremely difficult for a party to avoid open leadership clashes in such circumstances. In 1953 following the British invasion the united PPP suffered two splits which eventually led to two ethnic parties. Following the PPP’s defeat at the 1964 election, the PPP was gutted with several key leaders leaving. Following the defeat of the PNC in 1992 the PNC actually split into the Hoyte and Green factions with Green being suspended from the party. Again, with the shock defeat of the PPP in 2015 there were open disagreements over who and what caused the loss of power. Ramotar and some of the old guard became victims.
What I have been hearing from the party’s electoral base and the African Guyanese community in general is a mixed bag. It is generally felt that Mr. Granger is a decent man, but that his apparent surrender of power without a fight was a display of weak leadership. The charge of dictatorial leadership appears to be a shock to the masses who in the circumstances of lost power seem to be in step with the view that he should step down. That he appears to be vying for the top spot again really takes the party into the Hoyte-Green zone again. This time the incumbent seems to on weaker ground. However one looks at it, the battle lines are drawn and party executives are taking sides—some from positions of principle and others from positions of self-preservation.
The outcome of the current impasse has consequences beyond the party. There are ethnic consequences as the party is a key ethnic institution in an ethnically polarized country. African Guyanese are very anxious about the developments as a weak PNC is not an asset to the group. It upsets the political equilibrium that is needed in ethnically bifurcated societies like Guyana. The divisions have prevented the party from mounting a more vigorous response to the excesses of the PPP government and the latter is in turn is taking full advantage of the vacuum.
It certainly is a defining moment for the PNC’s leadership. They have to balance multiple factors. From this distance both sides seem to be dug in. If that continues, it may have to get messy in order to get better. Some members are asking the leadership not to wash their linen in public. Mr. Granger seems to be of this mindset. But such matters cannot objectively be sorted out in private. History is not on the side of that approach.
From my own standpoint as a political commentator, a strong PNC is essential to a stable Guyana. It is the only party with the potential and real capacity to stop the PPP’s barrage. But a PNC with the kind of one-manism that Granger is charged with is bad for intra-party stability, is an impediment to genuine Coalition Politics which are central to the PNC’s chances at elections and ultimately ill-fitted to the democratic demands of an oil-rich Guyana.