Georgetown, Guyana — Voters in Guyana go to the polls on Monday in what some are terming an “historic election” since that country’s independence from Great Britain in 1966.
This election is unique because a combined opposition of blacks, East Indians, Amerindians and Douglas (mixed raced), under the umbrella of the APNU and AFC, have formed a coalition to oust President Donald Ramotar and his ruling People’s Progressive Party’s (PPP) which has been in power for the past 23 years and which has been accused of rampant corruption, nepotism, political victimization, human rights abuses and withholding local elections for two decades.
The PPP is hoping that its East Indian supporters, descendants of bonded labourers from India, who began arriving in the former British Guiana in 1834, will put it back in office and with a majority in Parliament.
Guyana’s ethnic voting pattern cracked in the last general election in 2011, when the PPP lost some of its Indian supporters to the AFC, a multi-ethnic coalition, and ended up losing its majority in parliament. Late last year, Ramotar suspended parliament in order to avoid a vote of no confidence but eventually succumbed to international pressure to call early national elections.
International observers from the OAS, CARICOM, the Commonwealth and the Carter Center are in Guyana to observe the polls. Former US president Jimmy Carter last week issued a press statement condemning what he termed “provocative rhetoric in the campaign and attempt to sow fear and distrust among Guyana’s ethnic groups or to undermine confidence in its electoral process and institutions”.
“It is imperative that political parties remain conscious of their obligations under the political party code of conduct for these elections and urge their supporters to behave accordingly,” he urged.
However, Carter left Guyana on Sunday, after complaining that he felt unwell.
The Carter Center issued a statement saying he was returning to Atlanta and cutting his election observation visit short. The statement did not specify why Carter, 90, left, only saying he was “not feeling well.”
“President Carter is hopeful about Guyana’s election and expressed his commitment and that of The Carter Center to supporting Guyana in the days ahead, stressing the need for a peaceful process before, during, and after the election,” read the statement.
The PPP has been accused of using race to demonize the Afro-dominated APNU and its presidential candidate, retired army Brigadier General David Granger, by reminding its Indian voters of the APNU’s (formerly the People’s National Congress (PNC)) dictatorship, which they alleged sent the army and police to terrorize Indians.
More recently, it seems that the PPP has moved away from the Jaganite secular-left and embraced radical ethnic and religious elements into its camp in an effort to “milk the race card” some observers allege.
Religious and ethnic symbolism has been very prominent in its election campaign. But former president of Guyana, Bharrat Jagdeo, also accused the APNU-AFC of playing the race card and said he has no apology for being an “Indo-Guyanese,” in reference to APNU-AFC prime ministerial candidate Moses Nagamootoo, who Jagdeo accused of denying his “Indianess”.
Jagdeo said, “We don’t have to go and hide in the bottom houses and do whisper campaigns; what we say here, we can say anywhere. And I say here today that this Cheddi Jagan’s party from the time it was formed in 1950 has been open to people of all races, all religion, every gender and every class. We have treated people regardless of their race with dignity.”
Nagamootoo in a recent public statement said that he is above all else a Guyanese, a statement that has come under heavy criticism by the ruling government to delegitimize Nagamootoo from his Indian supporters and especially that he has joined a coalition of black and other minorities.
Both parties are already claiming victory and on Saturday campaigning was robust throughout the country. People on the ground are reporting that the opposition is drawing large crowds at its rallies, with the APNU holding one of its largest gatherings at a Georgetown rally on Saturday.
Jagdeo is confident that his party will be victorious, while Granger predicts that this party will capture 58 to 62 percent of the votes. Granger said that in the last election, the APNU and the AFC combined captured 51% of the votes and added that “the hope is to retain that percentage while drawing an additional ten percent from among the pool of uncommitted voters.”
The APNU-AFC alliance has drawn younger voters, women and minorities who are looking beyond race and are calling for the country to vote for “change.”
“It’s our time,” they assert.
Offspring of the former leaders of Guyana, Forbes Burnham and Cheddi Jagan have also endorsed the coalition.