by Stella Ramsaroop
(Originally published in Guyana's Kaieteur News on 08 July 2007)
After reading the party leader nomination results for the PNC’s upcoming congress, I could not help but ask myself once again why it is that people remain loyal to an ineffective leader.
While studying political science in college, one of my professors always seemed to be intrigued with the fact that my classmates and I would always choose to side with the philosopher who believed in the people’s ability to make successful decisions in regards to their leaders.
Naïve and without much life experience, our class wanted to believe that given the opportunity and the necessary information to make an informed decision, the people would always choose to elect the most promising leader and they would never choose to retain an ineffectual or corrupt leader.
Our professor found this quite amusing and would play the devil’s advocate and take us to task by reminding us that everyone in that class were either Political Science majors or minors. He would ask how many of us read the newspaper that morning, which was almost every single student.
He would ask if we knew the names of our national leaders and without fail almost every one of us could run down the list of names attached to the governmental position he indicated. Then he would ask if we knew our local government leaders and once again most of the class even knew these.
The professor then pointed out that we were the geeks who cared about political goings on, but that as a whole the rest of society simply did not care – nor did they take the time to be informed about the actions of their leaders or whether an incumbent had accomplished anything of consequence during her/his time in office.
This information was not easily accepted by most of us because we all believed in the power of the people so much that we just could not accept that the people would not rise to the responsibility attached to the democratic process. I must admit that I carried this political naivety with me for many years.
The political climate in Guyana is far more complicated than anything I studied in my poly sci classes. The racial factor and the nation’s spotted history play more of a role in determining future leaders than the highly important issues of competency, effectiveness, trust and potential.
Moreover, Guyana is a nation steeped in rich and beautiful traditions. These traditions have a familiar soothing effect on the people who do not appear very open to radical change. It seems the general consensus is that it is easier to live in a perpetual state of discontent and fear than to take the necessary dramatic actions that would usher in better leaders.
The result is a nation led by a Machiavellian style that assumes a fundamentally flawed human nature in the people and maintains that the end justifies the means in governing such people. Machiavelli believed evil acts and brut force were acceptable in governing so long as the necessary end is achieved. This style also uses a reward system to maintain status quo in the citizenry because the philosopher believed the people no smarter than to see through such ploys.
However, even Machiavelli maintained that the only acceptable end to such actions was the stabilisation and health of the state. Moreover, he held that individual power for its own sake is not an acceptable end and does not justify evil actions. Therefore, a Machiavellian leadership style that does not produce the stabilisation and health of the state is unjustified.
I once met a Christian minister who told me that people are like sheep. They want someone to tell them where to go, what to do and what to think. He maintained that not only do the people want such a leader, but they also need such a leader. This mindset completely removes all power from the people and puts it solely in the hands of the leaders.
The most glaring dilemma with this concept is that all leaders – even the good-hearted ones – a prone to corruption. A democratic system is supposed to provide various checks and balances to ensure that the needs of the people are the primary focus. When these checks and balances fail because of bribes and/or cronyism, the entire democratic state fails and it is the people who suffer most.
Although I am still a very optimistic person in general, I no longer believe the people will always choose effective leadership (and remove ineffective leadership) when they have the opportunity and the necessary information to make an informed decision.
For example, although Robert Corbin is one of the most ineffective leaders I have come across in my lifetime, I know his chances of being re-elected as the party leader for the PNC are very high. This says more about the people who are going to vote for his leadership than it does about him – although it says plenty about him as well.
I lived in Missouri for many years, which is a state that despises change so much that the state motto is “The Show-Me state.” In other words, we refuse to believe anything unless we can see it with our own eyes. The result is a group of people who refuses to change unless it can be proven that a better alternative exists.
Guyanese people are much like the Missourians. They want change, but they want proof that a better alternative exists before they decide that change is actually a good thing. The problem is that we do not have the power of foresight that would enable us to see if an alternative method is better or worse than the current.
Whether a new leader for the PNC party would be any better than Corbin is not for us to know at this point since we do not know the future. On the other hand, we can pretty much surmise what the future will look like with Corbin at the helm again.
What do I predict for the party if Corbin returns as its leader? Nothing. I predict the PNC will get what it has always received from his leadership all along, nothing at all.