FIRST Lady Arya Ali is very well liked throughout the nation with the highest approval ratings among First Ladies. Unlike her predecessors, she is very proactive on social issues and the environment including beautifying community projects. And she has exhibited one distinguishing quality from all preceding First Ladies – relating with and is very comfortable working with all religious denominations — Hindu, Muslim, and Christian; patronising hosting, and supporting events of all faiths. She exemplifies good family upbringing, receiving strong support in her public activities.
Because of her non-political and non-controversial activism, she has scored extremely high ratings among recent First Ladies for performance or likeability, much higher than her predecessor and even higher than her husband, the President. In fact, no one has given First Lady Arya Ali a negative rating in an ongoing poll I have been conducting. Everywhere, people praise the stand she has taken on several social issues and the environment. She is described as friendly, compassionate, caring, adorable, cultured, warm, well mannered, and bright; she is also patriotic and nationalistic, standing up for the country. She has received good traction among younger people, and like her husband, she is on the ground interacting with the populace. Lady Arya complements her husband on several matters, and she is very supportive of him as he addresses ‘political’ or governance issues of the state.
Being the President’s spouse is a unique job; she becomes involved in important causes and raising awareness for the administration’s policy initiatives. There is no defined public-policy role for a First Lady and as such, there is nothing to be evaluated or rated. She is not assigned a specific public-policy role but has taken on her own roles. The First Lady’s task or role is how she and the government define it. It can be everything and almost anything at anytime. She can pursue any public policy or issue. But she usually does not dabble in politics as Viola Burnham did, and she often restricts her activities to a supporting role to the President. But First Ladies of other nations are well respected. And they can wield significant influence over people and Presidents to get things done or to focus attention on a pressing issue. People look up to and admire First Ladies and attend her events, being careful not to do things that would offend her or the President. They tend to follow her every action as well as her wardrobe fashion and listen to her.
First Ladies play an important role in any nation, complementing their husbands. Guyana’s First Ladies — Janet Jagan and Viola Burnham – Janet during self-rule and both of them during the Burnham dictatorship were very active in politics, serving in the Cabinet or other prominent political posts. Janet Jagan earned her position in the Cabinet because she was a revolutionary figure who fought against colonial rule and Burnhamism. Janet earned distinction through her own political achievement, a hero and iconic figure, with whom no other First Ladies can be compared. She earned her reputation separately from her husband and did not depend on him to shine. Janet was also a very popular and likeable First Lady throughout the nation and President (among PPP supporters), till her resignation in August 1999. Thereafter, First Ladies were not active in politics or in the Cabinet or in policy-making, playing supporting roles to their husbands. The popularity or approval or likeability ratings of all of them were not measured in polls, except the limited evaluation conducted by this writer. Sandra Granger was well liked among Coalition supporters, scoring higher than her husband; and whereas David Granger scored poorly among PPP supporters, Sandra got decent ratings among them. In contrast to her predecessor, Arya has taken a much more active public role.
Arya has had a public visibility unmatched by her predecessors. She takes the lead volunteering on public matters such as cleaning the environment and speaking out against domestic violence, drug abuse, alcoholism, suicide, and other issues. She supports the anti-drug and anti-COVID campaign, as well as literacy and health programmes. She has been giving speeches and giving interviews to the media. Arya Ali is admired and popular across the nation among supporters of all parties. She is non-partisan and does not dabble in political issues. She has stayed out of political conflicts. She has focused on everyday family issues on which everyone would agree.
Although they have no specific task, people do say whether they like or dislike a First Lady. She is part of a worldwide phenomenon of Presidents’ wives being substantially better liked than their husbands. Because they work as spokespersons to bring attention to non-controversial issues, they generally win public approval. Not surprisingly, their efforts lead to higher approval ratings than their husbands. President Granger’s ratings dropped from the 60s to the 40s. But First Lady Sandra remained unaffected in the +50 per cent positive ratings. Janet consistently had +50 per cent positive ratings, trailing her husband Cheddi who was the most likeable of all Presidents for his caring, austere, and simple life.
But Arya’s rating, like her husband, is rising with each month in office. Hers is in the 90s. It is reasonable to assume that part of her popularity comes from the policies of the government and the activism of the President. She is also uncontroversial. And she has brought a formal, populist and cultured style from her family upbringing to State House in hosting functions and entertaining guests. An illustrative example is hosting dinner for Diwali, when she treated guests as Gods and Goddesses as described in the scriptures, and prepared packages of sweets as gifts to take home, as is the festival tradition. Almost everyone rates her as outstanding, excellent, very good and none saying poor or unsatisfactory.
Vishnu Bisram (Pollster)