Headlines, Latin America & the Caribbean

GUYANA-POLITICS: A Party in Search of its Former Glory

Juliet Dos Santos

GEORGETOWN, Jul 16 1996 (IPS) - General elections in this South American republic are more than one year away, but already talk on the streets is that the opposition People’s National Congress as it now stands has little chance of reclaiming its former position.

Devastated by the 1992 defeat which saw the party winning some 26 of the 65 seats in the National Assembly, the PNC appears to be struggling to maintain a stronghold on the country’s political landscape.

Critics have attributed the weakening position of the party to two main factors, the first being the significant changes which leader Hugh Desmond Hoyte has effected and the second being the expulsion of former General Secretary, Hamilton Green.

Green was expelled from the party almost one year after it was defeated at the polls by the Cheddi Jagan-led People’s Progressive Party (PPP) in what increasingly became known as the first free and fair elections in the country in 28 years.

Party insiders say Green was given the marching orders for publicly disagreeing with Hoyte over the latter’s decision to concede electoral reforms and for “undermining party discipline.”

In 1994 Green who draws his support from the depressed areas within the city set up his own political party called Good and Green Georgetown (GGG) and defeated both the PNC and the PPP in the Georgetown Municipal elections.

That victory, observers say, may have persuaded many PNC members and supporters that the 62-year-old “grass roots” politician could seriously affect the electoral fortunes of the former ruling party in next year’s polls.

Last year, having served as Mayor of Georgetown for one year, Green renamed his group Good and Green Guyana and announced that he would contest the general elections as his party’s presidential candidate.

But with the main opposition party struggling to recapture the prominence it once held, it now appears to be persuading Green to return to the fold.

Kenneth King, the current general secretary has admitted that Green’s expulsion has “affected the solidity of the movement” but that “a group of PNC supporters have reported some measure of progress” in their reconciliation attempts.

Meanwhile, green has admitted that he is “open to reconciliation at any level, with any group,” but declares that “there are no reconciliation talks as such.”

Sources close to Hoyte who spoke on condition of anonymity, say while a reconciliation may be electorally expedient there are doubts that the equally strong but diametrically opposed personalities of Hoyte and Green can co-exist in the same political party.

“Green’s strength as a vote getter is counterbalanced by inclination to be a law unto himself,” says one long-standing party member.

And while the issue of the impact of Green’s ouster on the party continues to be a subject of discussion, observers say the changes Hoyte has effected in the party in recent years have alienated him from many supporters.

Since the founder of the party, Forbes Burnham’s death, Hoyte, 67, has stripped the PNC of its socialist profile, sidelined the ideologies nurtured by Burnham and projected the PNC as a social democratic organisation.

As a result influential Marxist thinkers within the party have disappeared.

Burnham’s rule had devastating consequences for the economy of the country. His frequent attacks on the United States and on Britain led to a drying up of funds and aid programmes from these territories, but Hoyte changed all this when he took over the leadership of government.

But Hoyte has proved more amenable to mending fences with the United States following years of strained relations over the PNC’s socialist policies.

He engendered a complete turn-around in Guyana’s foreign relations, swinging from the political left to right. He signed the country’s first pact with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the freeze in relations with the U.S. thawed.

But observers say by far the most politically significant development associated with Hoyte’s tenure were the electoral reforms he conceded in 1990 at the urging of former U.S. President, Jimmy Carter.

In the late 1960s and early 1970s Burnham’s government had changed the rules governing elections effectively guaranteeing for itself power in perpetuity.

Using the might of the military, the government intimidated voters and opposition parties while ensuring that the state controlled all aspects of the election machinery and the media.

Under Hoyte’s leadership, Carter-won concessions included a ban on the military providing any service except that of security for the polls. Counting had to be done at the place of voting, while ballot boxes were changed to ones that were not easily opened and ballot paper printing was done overseas. Also an independent elections commission now run the electoral exercise.

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