PNC Ethnic politics

PNC Ethnic politics
Photo : Ravi Dev

ROAR of Ravi Dev

Volda Lawrence, Chairwoman of the PNCR has created quite a firestorm over her comments to her party faithful at a Region 4 conclave to conduct a post mortem on the LGE and to chart a way forward to 2020. Throwing the usual politically correct political platitudes we usually hear in the public pronouncements of politicians, Ms. Lawrence bluntly told her audience that when it comes to jobs, “The only friends I got is PNC so the only people I gon give wuk to is PNC and right now I looking for a doctor who can talk Spanish or Portuguese and ah want one that is PNC!” 

This was remarkable for a host of reasons, not the least what it portends for the unemployed in the country who are not members of the PNC or friends of Ms Lawrence. Unemployment is a major challenge to achieving the promised “good life” that Ms Lawrence’s government promised in 2015 with 12.2% of the working age population out of work according to a survey conducted in the third quarter of 2017. A good chunk of that unemployed population is from the sugar belt where some 7000 persons were unilaterally fired by the PNC government when they closed four of the seven sugar estates of Guysuco. Most of those workers are PPP supporters. 

The Chairman of the PNC – who not so incidentally is also the Minister of Health – is therefore telling those unemployed that unless they pick up a PNC party card, there is no hope in them getting employed by the government or in government-funded projects. From “Produce or Perish”, the new Government slogan is evidently “Be PNC or Perish”, since the policies of the PNC government has stifled private sector expansion and public investment is holding up growth right now. Apart from such a policy being discriminatory on its face, it implicitly violates the constitutionally protected right of “freedom of association” by placing supporters of the PPP or other parties than the PNC in an invidiously untenable position to act on their freedom of conscience.

It appears however, that Ms Lawrence is waiving the old standard from the 1970s, that one had to be a “born PNC”- read “African Guyanese”- to collect the PNC card, to one where, if individuals of other ethnicities, especially Indian Guyanese, hold their noses and join the PNC, their origins will be “forgiven”. At the engagement with the PNC activists, referring to "people who look like us and people who look like Jagdeo", she exhorted then to imitate the PPP, which evidently had fielded 28 African Guyanese candidates out of 30 candidates for the Georgetown Municipal Elections, and recruit more members who “look like Jagdeo”.

But this position calls into question the PNC’s relationship with the AFC in the APNU/AFC coalition that now governs the country and which was supposed to bring in the Indian Guyanese based on their performance at the 2011 polls. During the LGE campaign, Ms. Lawrence had in fact been rather sharp in her criticism of the AFC, which had been forced to fly solo. Is she now signaling that the PNC will be using its clout in the government to buy Indian Guyanese votes and dump the AFC?

From a purely political perspective, this may make sense since the PNC will not have to comply with the terms of the Cummingsberg Accord and allocate 40% of the Cabinet to the AFC. If the AFC wants to remain relevant under this scenario, its leaders will have to join the PNC, as did several Members of Parliament from the PNC coalition partner, the UF, before the 1968 elections.

It would now appear with the oil revenues in sight, Volda Lawrence is dangling the prospects of jobs and employment which would be under the control of the PNC to rearticulate the 1970’s PNC policy of create an effective single-party state. Parties would be allowed to exist but would be effectively shut out from having any input in government policies. But that implies the PNC would win the 2020 elections on its own.

Do they also have a technique from the 1970s to deal with that contingency?