by Stella Ramsaroop
(Originally published in the Kaieteur News on 15 Jan 2006)
I offer my unsolicited opinion on a variety of topics almost daily, so when I received an email from Sherwood Lowe this past week asking for some suggestions on how the PNCR could appear to be less of a “missing in action” party (my nickname for the PNCR) given their current situation, of course I was more than happy to oblige – even though he has not been very nice to our Sweet and Sensitive Freddie lately.
I am going to be frank, Sherwood, your party looks beat already and the real campaigning has yet to start. In fact, Corbin has looked totally downtrodden in almost every photo for the last month. I don't believe I have seen a smile on his face since before the holidays. Did he not get what he wanted from Santa?
The leader of the PNCR certainly does not look like he has the energy or the will to lead a healthy opposition into the election season. Instead, he looks like he is in mourning. That look of resignation will make the voters uneasy, not excite them. Perhaps you could encourage him to smile when the cameras are clicking away in his face?
Sherwood, you suggested that it was difficult for the PNCR to be an effective opposition given its lack of legislative influence due to the winner-take-all system and what you described as “uneven, sporadic and manipulative coverage [received] from these three dailies.”
I too maintain that the current political system should be amended to a more equitable one. However, the PPP bemoaned the current system when the PNCR was in power and when it took office did nothing to change it. It seems they were just unhappy at the time because they were not the ones with all the power. They certainly do not seem to have a problem with this issue anymore.
I wonder what the PNCR would do if it won the elections next year? Would it move away from the Westminster system to a consensual paradigm as suggested by the World Bank in 2003 when they reported that Guyana was in a crisis of governance? Or would it just be happy to have all the power again, like the PPP?
Let's get back to the issue at hand, Sherwood. You asked, “…what space exists between what the PNCR is currently doing and mass street action that the PNCR can occupy to make it a more effective opposition?” There is so much the PNCR can do, but it must first shift its focus and re-examine its priorities.
Your party's focus should not be on the amount of media coverage it does or does not receive – its focus should be to win the hearts of the people. Likewise, your first priority should not be to fight the PPP on every little thing, but to make good things happen for Guyana regardless of the obstacles. In other words, your focus and priority should always be the people.
For example, when the floods hit this season, the PNCR should have been raising money to aid in the recovery efforts and it should have been where the waters were deep to help the people get what belongings they could from their homes and farms or to save their livestock and farm equipment. Maybe you did this and I did not hear about it? If not, then you should have.
An approach such as this would have resulted in positive press coverage too, because the PNCR would have been where the news was and by default where the media was at the time as well. Further, when the PPP showed up at the flooded areas to calm the people, you could have already been there up to your neck in muddy water to ask the hard question of those who were supposed to be protecting the people.
The PPP is great with propaganda and making a bad situation look positive. Where do you think the flood victims got those huge signs of Jagdeo and the garlands they put around his neck? Their homes are flooded and their crops are loss, but somehow they have big banners of Jagdeo that were high and dry?
However, the PPP went too far with that whole stunt. Malcolm Harripaul had a point when he questioned whether anyone saw the flood victims in New Orleans giving Bush a parade for not taking the measures he should have taken to protect them from an impending flood. Those people in New Orleans were ticked off and had every right to be. The same holds true for the flood victims in Guyana.
Anyhow, the point is that your party's focus should be to help the people regardless of how much power, resources or money the ruling party has allotted for you. Here are some other ideas that can help the country. If the PNCR leaders organised some concerned citizens in GT to form an ongoing “Clean Up The City” campaign to permanently purge the streets, canals, public parks, etc. of litter and debris, when the media takes notice, guess whose doors they will be knocking on?
Also, when the floods hit again and the canals are still being maintained - thanks to the hard work of the concerned citizens and the PNCR - the PPP will then be forced to admit that the drainage system is antiquated, falling apart and must be completely replaced. The public would see that the PNCR has done its job and the PPP would be caught with their pants down…again. As it is, neither party is doing what it takes to stop the floods – as is quite clear since there is still flooding.
Here is another suggestion. At the start of a new school term, adopt a few students from each region to help them proudly attend school by paying for their uniforms, school supplies etc. Party members who donated items and services such as a tailor or seamstress could help defray the cost of this program and the media loves these feel good stories.
As you can see, Sherwood, being an effective opposition is not as much about fighting the ruling party as it is about serving the people. There are many more ways the PNCR can revamp its image and become a party that demands public attention simply by virtue of being a party for the people.
Sure, there will be times when the PNCR will need to stand up to the evils of authoritarianism, but it will come across as far more credible if there is a proven track record of compassionate concern for the citizens.
I am sure the PNCR has done its share of community projects that I have not heard about, just as the PPP has done its share lately too. However, these projects should be done with a sincere and genuine concern for the people – not as an election-time ploy to garner votes.
This is how I see it Sherwood, one side of this coin is self-preservation and the other side of the coin is Guyana preservation. The question at hand is this - which side of the coin is the PNCR?