By Jasminee Sahoye
Political surprises continue to pop up in Guyana, the latest being the ruling People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) opting for prime ministerial candidate Elizabeth Harper over stalwart Samuel Hinds.
Last week, an unanticipated coalition party, APNU-AFC, was revealed to the nation in a bid to unseat the PPP/C in national elections on May 11 through a united front. The government prorogued Parliament in November but continued spending without normal parliamentary oversight and only recently called the election.
Of African descent, Harper’s working life has been spent at the Foreign Ministry, starting as a clerk and working up to her recent post of director general.
Choosing her to run for prime minister was a stunning move by the PPP/C, which did not re-elect Hinds who was prime minister for 23 years. A geologist from the mining town of Linden, he served the party under four presidents – founder Cheddi Jagan, Janet Jagan, Bharrat Jagdeo and Donald Ramotar, current president, since the party won victory in 1992.
Some Guyanese say Hinds, 71, has outlived his usefulness and the party needs a fresh face to attract voters.
Hinds served with distinction in many ways. The party and government had turned to him to quell demonstrations and protests in his hometown of Linden which has a predominantly Black population that appeared to be getting “out of hand.”
He represented the country at many overseas events and performed the duties of president on a number of occasions when the president was overseas on business. For his contributions, the government in 2011 awarded him the Order of Excellence, Guyana’s highest national award.
“Mrs. Elizabeth Ann Harper brings to the table that sparkle, that burst of freshness that will energize and inspire membership, supporters and wellwishers to work hard for the party’s victory at the polls,” said PPP General Secretary Clement Rohee in explaining that her choice was unanimous by the party membership.
“Mrs. Harper has for years laboured in the ravines of international diplomacy in service of our people and nation. She is a proven servant of the people in service of our country and nation. She is a proven servant of the people of Guyana. The consummate public servant and totally committed to placing at the disposal of the PPP government, her invaluable skills and experience she has accumulated over the years and which will contribute immensely to a strong, stable and secure Guyana,” Rohee said.
Calling Harper a patriot, Ramotar said, “While we have had many tried, tested and youthful leaders who have enjoyed their democratic right, we are focused on renewal and reached out to the best in the interest if the people of Guyana.
Harper, married to former Guyana cricket coach Mark Harper, was quoted by Ramotar as saying she is humbled by her selection.
Comments on social media have been for and against Harper as prime ministerial candidate. Some criticized her for accepting the candidacy while others suggest she could make a difference in taking the party to victory.
Robert Persaud, a minister under the Ramotar government and a long time PPP executive, posted on Facebook: “Today is a remarkable day! We are proud to have nominated a Guyanese as our prime ministerial candidate who has served our nation with distinction.
“A strong woman, a career diplomat, a mother, a wife, a daughter who I’m sure will ensure we make the Guyana of tomorrow better than it is today.”