On 11 May 2015 the Guyanese people voted a new government into office, ending 23 years of rule by the People’s Progressive Party (PPP).
The opposition coalition, formed of A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) and the Alliance for Change (AFC), won the elections by a slender one per cent margin. They will have 33 seats in the new National Assembly, while the PPP has 32.
The opposition leader and former army brigadier, 69 year-old David Granger replaces Donald Ramotar as Guyana’s president, vowing to fight official corruption and to increase security against crime and drug trafficking.
The extremely close result saw the PPP demanding a recount of the votes. They also accused the Guyana Elections Commission of election fraud. However, international observers as well as CARICOM described the elections as free and fair.
The PPP demanded a recount as they had lost the contest by less than 5,000 votes (the APNU+AFC coalition won 206,817 votes, compared to the ruling PPP’s 201,457), and especially called for a recount in one district where the margin was a single vote. The chief election officer however refused to admit their petition. Outgoing president Donald Ramotar refused to concede for several days, and he declined to attend the APNU leader’s inauguration ceremony.
Since 2011, the two opposition parties had in fact enjoyed a small majority in the National assembly, but as they had not officially formed a coalition, the presidency was occupied by the PPP’s Donald Ramotar.
The PPP minority government faced increasing difficulties in pushing through its legislative proposals. In November 2014 Ramotar prorogued the National Assembly for six months before calling early elections for May 2015.
This time, the two opposition parties formed an alliance to contest the elections. In February David Granger of APNU was chosen as their presidential candidate, whilst Moses Nagamootoo of the AFC stood for the post of prime minister.
Nagamootoo had left the PPP in 2011, accusing the party of betraying the ideals of its founder, national liberation leader Cheddi Jagan, who led Guyana from 1992 until 1997.
As in the past, support for the two political groups was largely along racial lines. Guyanese of Indian descent (some 43% of the population) allied with the Amerindian indigenous peoples (some 9% of the total) continued to back the PPP. Those of Afro-Caribbean heritage and mixed ethnicity gave their support to the new alliance.
Against this backdrop Guyana’s new president presents himself as a competent leader with a clean political record. Granger has stressed he wishes to be a leader for all the Guyanese people, going so far as to declare “I extend the arm of friendship to former President Donald Ramotar and the members of the PPP to join this great movement of national unity.”
The incoming president also told the local press that the ruling coalition “will not be obsessed with the politics of revenge, recrimination and retribution but with reconciliation. The law, however, must be allowed to take its course in cases of notorious crimes such as political executions and massive frauds. An APNU-AFC administration will not hinder law-enforcement. We are concerned with the future – with ensuring good governance and with preventing a recurrence of past abuses.”
During the election campaign he also reached out to the Guyanese diaspora in the United States and the UK, stressing that he wanted his rule to strengthen an inclusive democracy.
The 100-day plan
To encourage this, the APNU+AFC government immediately launched a 100-day plan, aimed principally at confidence building in the new administration.
One of the measures outlined is the establishment of an Investigative Commission on Corruption in order to promote political transparency. A further move is the announcement that local elections are to take place before the end of 2015. These were last held in 1994, as the PPP feared they would be controlled by the opposition.
Meetings with the rice and sugar cane farmers and workers, the mainstay of the Guyanese economy, are to be held. Also the national Toshaos Conference, which assembles the Amerindian leaders, is to be de-politicised and to provide for real decision-making for the communities.
The 100-day plan further includes the setting up of a National Conference for Women and the removal of VAT from food and basic goods.
The new government will face many difficult challenges. Its initiatives in the National Assembly are likely to be blocked by the still very powerful PPP and their leader Ramotar, who has not as yet shown any inclination to stand down.
The Granger administration will need to bring in effective measures to control both the use of Guyana as a staging post in the trafficking of illegal drugs, and the trafficking of humans as well.
There is also a continuing debate over the best and most sustainable ways to extract and exploit Guyana’s natural resources, as well as the high emigration rate, which means that Guyana loses approximately 90% of its graduates.
According to the World Bank, Guyana is the third poorest country in Latin America and the Caribbean, after Haiti and Nicaragua.