A vibrant and resilient multi-party democracy like our country necessitates the presence of a credible and effective opposition party (parties or coalition) and opposition leader, and I don’t equate mass disturbances and the power to create mayhem with the meaning of ‘effective’. Interactions with Guyanese, including supporters of the PNC, reveal a crucial element of democracy (a strong opposition and leader) has been missing in Guyana since August 2020. It is felt that the PPP will remain the dominant political force for years to come unless the opposition stops crying and demanding removal of Gecom chair, among others, and unless it changes its behavior. It us felt that the opposition should focus on ‘governance’ issues rather than be bogged down with a permanent campaign mode.
Since losing political power in August 2020, the PNC and AFC have been besieged by leadership conundrum, organizational weakness, and grassroots activism. They have also experienced resignations of key officers and members – a feature that also has characterized other parties. All three above factors have impacted on the coalition’s national support. Attention is drawn mostly to the PNC and its leader Aubrey Norton since the AFC has seen almost all of its support evaporated. The PNC has to accept it can’t win or make electoral gains if it continues with the kind of political acts of the last two years. In order to confront the three above-mentioned challenges head on, the PNC must attempt to take urgent stock of its present situation which is hurting its electoral prospects. It must challenge the government on policies and programs and enunciate its own alternative policies and seek to win support outside of its stronghold.
The party is not likely to make electoral gains come 2025 largely because of the three factors listed above. These three factors can be collapsed into one – leadership – if the leader is respected, people would be willing to become activists and engage in organizational activities to maximize voter turnout.
Apart from leadership, the erosion of the party’s organizational apparatus has led to a gradual shrinking of its electoral base. The party witnessed major losses in its support base in almost all regions in 2020. The latter was due largely to declining grass roots activism. Because they were neglected between 2015 and 2020, many activists walked away from the party and did not bring out the party supporters. Many supporters had lost interest in the coalition because they lost their jobs and because of unkept promises.
Since 2020, the PNC has been unable to devise an appealing narrative that can offer an alternative to the present political discourse. Crying discrimination without evidence or yelling ‘apartheid’ will not consolidate the base or bring in new supporters. In short, the party has not been electorally appealing and inspiring. And President Irfaan Ali is very appealing and popular in contrast to Aubrey Norton as I found in recent surveys in May and in July. VP. Jagdeo, President Irfaan, and PM Mark Phillips have been reaching out to the PNC base with appropriate policies and programs that directly affect their lives. In my opinion, The PNC base gets a lot more resources than the PPP base.
Elections in 2006, 2011, and 2015 showed that the opposition has the capacity to make electoral gains. The opposition party (coalition) needs to develop and project itself as a competent political alternative to the government. Hard street politics is not the way to make gains. A soft image can create wonders. In November of 2021, I penned that Norton was on the cusp of winning the PNC leadership. In December, after victory and when he was blocked from sitting in parliament and assuming the Opposition Leader position, I penned he would become Opposition Leader. And he has. Being in government is far away because of his (irresponsible) statements and modus operandi.
The opposition must come across as a real shadow government in waiting hoping to defeat the ruling party in the next election. As it is, so far, the PNC has not demonstrated that it is serious about winning an election and its support is shrinking. No doubt, being out of power and unable to disburse patronage as it did during its stint of 28 consecutive years in office and again between 2015 and 2020, it is a major challenge for the party leadership to keep the flock together.
The PNC (its leadership and MPs) have to stop behaving like it is in a permanent campaign mode and be a responsible opposition. They must stop threatening office holders, especially Gecom. What gains would be made in threatening Gecom Chair?
The opposition MPs must act responsibly and respectably. They can’t seek to steal the mace and be disruptive or act disorderly in parliament and expect voters to respect them or have new voters gravitate towards them. They have to strengthen their standing in and out of parliament. An alert and efficient political opposition will highlight the shortcomings in governmental policies and also ensure democratic accountability. This will make the opposition an attractive alternative.