Dissension within the ranks of Guyana’s People National Congress/Reform Party is the major challenge it currently faces, says party leader, Robert Corbin.
Corbin, who assumed the role as the PNC/Reform leader six years ago following the death in 2002 of former president, Desmond Hoyte, was re-elected at the 16th biennial congress in August. He defeated former party chair Winston Murray who resigned in January 2008.
“A major objective at the moment is to try to find some conflict resolution mechanisms within the party,” said Corbin, who was in Toronto last weekend to meet with supporters here. “The dissension is not as serious as some would make it out to be. It has to do with personal differences as to how the party should move forward. I really see nothing new or revolutionary coming forth from any of the ideas put forward by them.”
Corbin said there are some members who feel that the party should adopt a more aggressive approach. He, however, said the strategies implemented by the party have been carefully analyzed.
“We have had to change our strategy and tactics based on the conditions on the ground that change from time to time,” he said. “When I assumed the party’s leadership, we were very much in an aggressive street protest mode. We were boycotting the parliament and we had big demonstrations on the streets. At the time, there were certain things we had to do.
“As we moved towards the 2006 general elections, our research indicated that some of those activities would be counter-productive to our election thrust and we consciously took a decision to minimize some of those activities. It is not that we have abandoned street protests. We want to make sure we are in control of the activities we undertake and that we don’t suffer from their negative consequences.
“Some of my critics felt that meant we were getting soft or selling out to the ruling party. It’s just that we have been doing things differently and sometimes it could be difficult for people to adjust to new approaches. I believe if we are to create a new society in Guyana, then any political strategy has to be carefully thought out so that there could be cohesion rather than division at election time.”
A former deputy prime minister and party chair, Corbin insists his passion and drive for the party and politics have not waned since he joined the PNC’s youth arm in the 1970s.
“It’s very much alive and there,” he said. “But I think the experience I have gained has taught me one has to approach our problems differently and I am trying to bring my colleagues around to understanding that. I have been in politics for several decades and if one is to modernize one’s approach to political development in Guyana, I do believe that we have to change the cycle of political confrontation and conflict.
“It’s a long and tedious process if Guyana is to move forward and we have to have someone or some group taking the lead in this regard. It’s pointless to use the same old strategies, create conflict and assume power. That only leads to a cycle of political conflict. We have to try to bridge that divide and bring the political forces together in a shared program and that is why we have been advocating for a shared governance model.”
Corbin maintains the party is still relevant and said it’s actively seeking young people to assume leadership positions despite the fact that the political environment in Guyana might not be conducive to luring young aspiring politicians.
“The environment in Guyana is not healthy for the promotion of young talent and young people who are willing to make sacrifices necessary to get into the political arena,” he added. “The brain drain that affects developing countries has also not spared us…It’s, however, something we are working on.”
Addressing the controversy surrounding the outcome of the biennial congress in August, Corbin said claims of registration irregularities are unjustified.
“It was a challenging congress because there were many aspirants to the party’s leadership who campaigned on various platforms,” he said. “There is democracy very much alive in the party and people are free to challenge for any position…No election can run smoothly and there were problems from time to time in the administration of the system because we have put in place new systems in keeping with the very requests of some of those same aspirants.
“We have a party that has existed for 52 years and we have had these electoral systems functioning effectively. However, for the last two congresses, there have been aspirants who feel that the old systems needed to be changed. We have attempted to respond to those calls to modernize things and in the process new systems sometimes have difficulties and we have had a few of them. Those difficulties certainly would not have affected the outcome of the elections in my opinion.”
Canadian-educated Dr. Richard Van West Charles, the son-in-law of late president Forbes Burnham, bowed out of the leadership race a few days before the congress and threw his support behind Murray.