BRIEF HISTORY OF THE PEOPLE'S NATIONAL CONGRESS



The first elections held in the colony of British Guiana under Universal Adult Suffrage were held in 1953. The People’s Progressive Party (PPP) of which Dr. Jagan was Leader and L.F.S. Burnham, Chairman romped home to victory. A note of explanation would be in order here. There was no clear line between the positions of Leader and Chairman of the PPP. As a result in significant sections of the country, Mr. Burnham, with his superior intellectual gifts, was always regarded as the top man in the Party. Several political writers have noted that Burnham was promised the leadership of the Party when he returned home but such a move was stymied by the first PPP Congress in 1950. In his book entitled “Forbes Burnham: National Reconciliation and National Unity 1984 – 1985, Mr. Halim Majeed, a former member of the PPP, confirms this fact. He states: “Actually, in the embryonic process of Party formation it was understood that Mr. Burnham would have been designated the Party Leader and so it appeared strange to him when Dr. Jagan’s influence in the Party did not seem to prevail.”

The rule of the first PPP Administration was brief. The radicalism of the Jagans and the resulting policies of the PPP brought the PPP Government into sharp conflict with the Colonial Administration. The Constitution was suspended in 1953. For four years there was a period of “marking time”. There were two factions of the PPP: the PPP (Jaganite) and the PPP (Burnhamite) as a result of a split in the original PPP in 1955. After the elections of 1957 Mr. Burnham decided to make a decisive break with the PPP and named his Party the People's National Congress. Having lost the elections in 1957, Mr. Burnham sought to strengthen his Party by absorbing the United Democratic Party (UDP) and the National Democratic Party (NDP), which were led at the time by John Carter and Rudy Kendall, respectively.

The PNC participated in the 1961 elections and even though it received only eleven (11) seats, it recorded some 42% of the votes. The PPP’s percentage of the votes was only marginally ahead with some 44% of the votes but with 20 seats. It therefore became a matter of policy for Mr. Burnham to press for different but more equitable electoral arrangements. In 1963 the British Government, in agreeing with the argument of the PNC, and wishing to impose a system agreed to by all of the leaders, opted for Proportional Representation. The PPP was defeated at the next elections in December 1964, and, in a coalition with the United Force (UF), Mr. Burnham became Premier and then Prime Minister of Guyana. The PNC took Guyana into Independence in 1966.

It is significant that in Government the PNC also sought to restructure itself to make it a more effective political organisation. While maintaining the basic structure of a Leader and an Executive over arched by a congress and a General Council, the Party decided in 1973 that there would be Biennial Congresses. Mr. Burnham declared that the Party would not be a mere election machinery but must become part of the nation-building process. As a result, the Party, especially the Women’s Arm, which had become the Women’s Revolutionary Socialist Movement (WRSM) in 1977, and the Youth Arm, the Young Socialist Movement (YSM), engaged in a number of major economic projects. At this period too, the Party sought to create a socialist society in which the poor was not disadvantaged and birth, gender or race were not a barrier to opportunity. In fact the Party in Government had a tremendous track record. The entire infrastructure of Guyana – physical, educational, economic, cultural and political – was built between 1964 and 1975. All of the major housing schemes, arterial roads, drainage and irrigation schemes, to give a few examples, were built while the PNC was in Government. In fact had it not been for the quadrupling of oil prices between 1973 and 1979 the PNC would have transformed Guyana in significant ways. The sharp and sudden oil prices triggered the worst global recession and the consequences for Guyana’s fragile and open economy were devastating, as they were for even the more developed and matured economies. A major chapter of the Party closed when Mr. Burnham died on the 6th of August 1985.

Mr. Hugh Desmond Hoyte became Leader of the PNC and was confronted by a new set of circumstances. With the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union, the world entered an era characterised by a new phase of globalisation. A democratic dispensation was born and market forces became the order of the day. The PNC had to adjust to these changes. Elections were held on the 5th October’ 1992. The PPP just managed a majority in Parliament by forming an alliance with the Working People’s Alliance (WPA). The PNC could easily have returned to the seat of Government had it not been for the controversial elections of 1997 and 2001. In the mean time the Party modernised itself and brought within its ranks elements of civil society known as the Reform component. Thus was born the People's National Congress Reform (PNCR). Mr. Hoyte died on the 22nd December 2002 and was succeeded by Mr. Robert H. O. Corbin, who has superior Ministerial experience to Mr. Jagdeo. At his first Congress as Leader of the Party, he signaled that the PNCR would work with all individuals and organisations that have a vested interest in taking Guyana out of its current economic quagmire.