guyana chronicle editorial January 28, 2017

ON the eve of its congress this weekend, the AFC’s Vice-Chairman, Prime Minister, Moses Nagamootoo, announced that he would not contest any of the party’s top positions. The PM, who was nominated for three of the top positions, including that of party leader, argued that it was time to make way for a new crop of leaders. While he was not stepping out of the party’s leadership, he felt that after more than 50 years of political activism, it was time to step aside from top leadership positions of “status.”

The PM’s thoughts are worth restating. “I have been in politics now for many, many years and for 52 of those years I have been in…posts in party politics…I want to say this: I am fully involved in the AFC. I want to see the party grow and become stronger. I want the party to reform and broaden its structure to bring on board the young generation of fighters, the so-called “Second Eleven” as we gear for 2020.”

Whatever one may think about the Prime Minister’s politics, he must be commended for taking this bold step. Our political culture is not characterised by such action on the part of leaders. The last time a leader stepped aside from top positions was when Eusi Kwayana, in 1987, announced that he was no longer going to be a candidate for top government positions. Kwayana argued then that a country whose leaders of the 1950s were still the leaders of the 1980s was one that was not growing. While Nagamootoo has not used the same words, he was, in fact, driving at the same general sentiment.

The issue of leaders holding on to top positions indefinitely, is one that has drawn mixed responses. On the one hand, party members have never been keen to push maximum leaders out of top positions. These leaders are generally revered and it is tantamount to heresy to seek to depose them. On the other hand, over the last few decades young people have been much more vocal about the need for older leaders to step aside and give way to younger candidates. That the PM alluded to the need for new leaders shows that he is not unmindful of this latter impulse in our political landscape.

The PM may also be responding to the debate over rotation of leadership in the AFC. There seems to be a split within the party and in public opinion on this issue. Many observers have argued that the party’s constitution prohibits top leaders from running for third terms, while others have contended that the constitution is silent on the issue. However, the debate really is about whether leaders should hold on to office indefinitely. The PM, by his removal from consideration for top office, appears to signal which side of the debate he favours. Whatever the merits and demerits of the two sides of the debate, it is clear that this issue would be best resolved by the choices made by the individual leaders. In this regard, the PM’s stance is even more noteworthy.

The PM also cited the need to concentrate on his job as the second most powerful governmental leader. This is not an isolated observation, as some in the AFC have argued that the party’s leaders in government should not hold top offices within the party. It is argued that the fusion of party and government leadership compromises the party’s independence. That is a very delicate debate that needs much more thought, but it points to the complexity of coalition politics. Clearly, member parties have not worked out the relationship between party and government.
In the final analysis, PM Nagamootoo has placed one model of engagement on the table. It is left to be seen whether it will be embraced by other leaders.