Sunday, August 10, 2008

PPP Congress - Stabroek News Editorial.

PPP Congress - Stabroek News Editorial

- Stabroek News - -
Posted By Staff On August 10, 2008 @ 5:01 am In Editorial

Nobody expects the PPP when talking among themselves to be open-minded and imaginative, let alone to delineate a vision for the future which soars above the present grubby realities, but did their senior spokesmen really have to address the party cohorts in quite such tawdry and misconceived terms last weekend? There was the General Secretary of the party, Mr Donald Ramotar, delivering the report from the Central Committee, waxing lyrical on the virtues of the now disbanded Target Special Squad (TSS). Never mind that evidence was given to a US grand jury concerning the corrupt activities of some members of that squad, or that it became associated with what is known in international parlance as “extra-judicial killings.” All of that, it seems, was irrelevant – and unproblematic – as long as it was killing “criminals.”

Mr Ramotar told the cadres that a similar unit to the defunct TSS was “urgently” needed, raising the inevitable question as to whether the governing party is really committed to the kind of professional policing which the British had in mind when they involved themselves in the Security Sector Reform Action Plan. The thought would not be dispelled after the General Secretary expanded on the theme of crime and politics, telling his audience that the PNC was appeasing its extremist elements; that by implication the main opposition would be the beneficiary of the action of the criminals; that Mr Corbin was “making concessions” to the “extremists”; and that the AFC’s position approximated to that of the PNCR. As such, he had no difficulty concluding that the PPP could not give in to demands for political unity when it was widely believed that criminals were executing a political programme.
Well the rest of the population might be completely in the dark as to the precise nature of the political programme the criminals have in mind, since none of them has promulgated any coherent ideology or even given a brief exposition of their political ends, but that small detail aside, the General Secretary managed to convey the unambiguous message that any discussions with the opposition on any topic whatsoever, but more particularly on security, were unwelcome. So, therefore, one must presume that when the government held its meetings with national stakeholders on security matters in the wake of the Lusignan and Bartica killings, it did so in a cynical frame of mind. Other than that, the Central Committee’s report to the membership reflected nothing more than a cynical approach to keep the constituency solid with the traditional anti-PNC rhetoric. Or again, perhaps there was a measure of cynicism on both occasions. Either way, it is no doubt significant that the governing party announced last week that they were pulling out of the US Embassy-sponsored Guyana Civil-Military Relations Conference.

As it is, the party has provided itself with the ultimate excuse for not talking to anybody, for not listening to anybody, and for indulging itself in the conviction that it has a monopoly on understanding and insight. By extension it appears to consider it has the right to implement whatever measures it sees fit, other viewpoints with a rational foundation notwithstanding. It is not the recommended way to run any democracy, let alone one in a divided society such as this.

Of course what the party membership heard last Saturday was not very different from what the PPP had said before; it was just that it was expressed in more explicit and if it might be said, rather more crass language. One wondered just how many of the faithful seriously believed some of the political analysis; surely the Central Committee with its command of electoral arithmetic could not have been unaware, for example, that “many” PNCR supporters did not go over to the PPP in 2006 as their report claimed. While percentage-wise the party’s majority was greater than in 2001, the absolute number of votes it received was lower than in the preceding election. In addition, the well-publicised fact that in the last general election turnout was lower than usual in traditional PNC constituency areas does not seem to have troubled the Central Committee one jot when it drew up its report. While there was the concession that other voters “who are still in transition have stopped at the AFC,” it was thought that with hard work the PPP could attract many of these into its ranks. Surely, one would have thought, when the governing party holds conversations with its own, a greater convergence between analysis and reality would have underpinned the exchanges.

But no, as far as can be discerned not even a hint of uncertainty appears to have entered the discussion framework that perhaps, just perhaps, for example, the party strategy on crime has been a dismal failure; that the voting population is as divided as ever; or that there is genuine dissatisfaction with the government among significant segments of the society. As long as there is no expectation of being voted out of office, of course, there is no need for introspection or to confront weaknesses or mistakes. The Central Committee can cruise along in propaganda mode – with one caveat. With migration rates being what they are, nowadays the PPP needs some help from the Amerindian vote to get into government, and that at least was one reality which appears to have been recognized, albeit indirectly.

Since the PPP has no faults, clearly, the problems the government faces are caused by the independent media – at least that was the thesis promoted by President Jagdeo, Mr Ramotar and Dr Roger Luncheon. The Head of the Presidential Secretariat, while not mentioning names, talked about media which were “enemies of the PPP,” and that they would have to be dealt with or “left unbridled” they would remain “a permanent thorn in the side” of the party until 2011 (the next general election). He also referred to the need for “media management,” although exactly what he intended by that phrase was not explained and presumably only time will tell what the party has in mind, if anything. After sixteen years in office it seems, the PPP resists the notion that criticism from the media and elsewhere is part and parcel of democratic practice, and that contrary to the beliefs of its hierarchy, the intrinsic definition of a critic – media or otherwise – does not include the association of “enemy” and particularly not of “unpatriotic.” Patriotism has not been cornered by the PPP.

The most extraordinary event at the conference came at the end in the form of the political declaration. As we reported on Monday, Ms Indra Chanderpal explained, among other things, that the party was ready to engage with the PNCR, the AFC or any other opposition group so inclined, to discuss areas of disagreement and policies in order to arrive at unified positions for the benefit of the people. So did the conference in the back rooms away from the public floor quietly reject the analysis of Mr Ramotar et al, indicating there is some level of true debate going on in the party after all, or was the declaration only for public consumption thus representing the final act of cynicism?

As a kind of codicil to all of this, it has to be said that the PPP/C did support Mr Corbin’s parliamentary motion on the late President Forbes Burnham on Thursday. It was certainly the correct gesture, and they should be commended for giving their backing to the motion, because given our history it must have been a difficult thing for them to do. However, in the end, historians will make their own judgements on Mr Burnham and the past, irrespective of what the politicians say, and what is important now is how the PPP deals with the opposition and civil society on the substantive issues which affect us today. All the same, is the motion evidence that it is the political declaration of the congress which will guide the party in its approach, and not the report of the Central Committee? How it deals with the opposition over the extension of Parliament and the five bills will no doubt clarify everything.

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