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Guyana - Political Parties

One of the primary characteristics of Guyanese democracy is political competition based on ethnicity. The first modern political party in Guyana was the People's Progressive Party (PPP), established on 1 January 1950 with Forbes Burnham, a British-educated Afro-Guyanese, as Chairman; Dr Cheddi Jagan, a US-educated Indo-Guyanese as second vice chairman; and his American-born wife, Janet Jagan, as Secretary General. In 1955 the PPP split and Burnham founded what eventually became the People's National Congress (PNC).

African-descended Guyanese are largely represented by a group of small parties united under an alliance called A Partnership for National Unity (APNU). A third political party, the Alliance for Change (AFC), formed in 2005 to bridge the differences between the country's two main ethnic groups.

Two major political parties, the People's Progressive Party (PPP) and People's National Congress (PNC) have dominated political life in Guyana since the late fifties. The PNC in an alliance with The United Force (TUF) in 1964 formed the first post independence Government. The former remained in power until 1992 with numerous allegations of electoral malpractice and manipulation being made after each of the elections which followed that party's accession to office. Although both parties can claim a "cross-over" of small numbers of voters from all of the ethnic groups that make up Guyana's population, The PPP/C gathers most of its support from the Indo-Guyanese community while the PNC is largely supported by the Afro-Guyanese.

From 1992 to 2006, the Peoples Progressive Party (PPP) was in power, following twenty-eight years of rule by the Peoples National Congress (PNC). The 2015 general elections resulted in the first change of the ruling party in 23 years. International observers concluded the elections were free, fair, and credible.

Despite low levels of party identification, parties have strong supporters among those identifying with them. Political parties are key institutions in any democratic system; they perform essential functions for the stability and consolidation of liberal democracies. Among these crucial functions are aggregating interests, channelling citizens demands, and selecting candidates for public office. In this sense, it is important to have political systems in which citizens develop affective ties or attachments to political parties that help to build stable and institutionalized party systems.

Electoral participation is one of the most important and common forms of political participation in every democracy. Aside from being the mechanism to select public officials, it is a way to express citizen belief in the legitimacy of the political system. The Church and the Guyana Defence Force are the institutions that reach the highest levels of confidence while the Mayors Office, the Guyana Police Force and political parties are the most distrusted institutions.

Neither Cheddi Jagan nor Forbes Burnham created the racial order in Guyana. The process of colonization included the invitation of competing labor groups and as a consequence, Afro and Indo Guyanese people were integrated into the economy and society very differently. The seeds for conflict in the colony of exploitation were always there.

One of the reasons for the Jagan-Burnham unity of the PPP in the 1950s was to build a coalition of racial unity in the struggle for independence. The split in the party in 1955 due to ideological and personality differences pronounced the racial antagonisms of the society within the broader imperial strategy of racial division. The racial riots and attacks on communities made the situation ugly for Guyana and everyday people.

Unlike most of the leaders of the Caribbean Left, Jagan long described himself as a Marxist and his ideologies grew with time. Cheddi Jagan was the son of indentured plantation workers in Guyana. He later attended Queens College in Georgetown for an education that would push him to overseas training in the USA in the sciences and dentistry. After his return to Guyana, by 1946 he organised the Political Affairs Committee and was elected a member of the Legislative Council. In 1950 he founded the Peoples Progressive Party. Trevor Munroe reminds us, Cheddi Jagan had won a massive election victory in 1953, the first Marxist to really win a majority in democratic elections (Allende was not the first in the hemisphere)

Early on in Jagans political career, he subscribed to and publicly spoke of a Marxist politics that was sometimes at odds with the reality of the Guyanese race-class situation. While Marxism proved to be philosophically valuable to Caribbean decolonization and nationalist struggles, a number of Caribbean leaders failed to politically and practically apply the theorizing to their contexts.

Jagans popular support owed much less to his Marxist pronouncements than his personal leadership on behalf of working and poor people, especially, sugar workers. Jagans naivety and also his deep loyalty to the principle of political freedom made him reluctant to disavow his sympathies with communism and communist organizers globally.

Guyana - Political Parties - 2006

Nomination Day went off with hardly a hitch 26 July 2006. Eleven parties appeared at Georgetown's City Hall to present their candidate lists for Guyana's August 28 national and regional elections, much fewer than the thirty-plus parties that had attended Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) preparatory meetings.

People's Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C)
Presidential candidate: Bharrat Jagdeo
Prime Minister candidate: Samuel Hinds
Seats won in 2001: 34
Rumors abound that current PM Hinds, despite being named as Prime Ministerial candidate, did not intend to continue in the government, preferring assignment as Ambassador to Ottawa. One rumored successor, Geology and Mines Commissioner Robeson Benn, appeared on the candidate list. Moses Nagamootoo, a charismatic and well-liked PPP veteran who publicly split with the party in 2005, has returned to the fold and appears on the list. Attorney-General Doodnauth Singh, who recently received emergency medical treatment in the U.S., is not on the list. Nor is 85 year-old PPP co-founder and former President Janet Jagan.

One Guyana People's National Congress Reform (OG/PNCR)
Presidential candidate: Robert Corbin
Seats won in 2001: 27
Corbin was leading a party with an image problem and little time to correct it before elections. The ungainly OG/PNCR acronym made its first appearance on Nomination Day. The PNCR had been scrambling to decide just who would join their camp to contest elections. The "One Guyana" part of the platform includes the small National Front Alliance party (received 0.1 percent of the vote in 2001), unnamed unions, and unnamed civic organizations. It seemed unlikely that this amalgamation will boost the PNCR's appeal at the ballot box. What the PNCR could still boast is a core of fervent supporters, as evidenced when they broke through the security gate and filled City Hall's courtyard just before the six o'clock deadline for submitting candidate lists. This is the same time that large PNCR groups have been known to rush polling stations demanding to vote just before closing on election day. The symmetry was not lost on Guyanese who observed the scene.

Alliance For Change (AFC)
Presidential candidate: Raphael Trotman
Prime Minister candidate: Khemraj Ramjattan
Seats won in 2001: n/a
The seven-month old AFC's candidate list, tilted to youth and unproven politicians below the three co-leaders, did not contain any big surprises. Some expected to see high-profile defectors from other parties on the list.

Justice For All Party (JFAP)
Presidential candidate: C. N. Sharma
Prime Minister candidate: Geoffrey Sankies
Seats won in 2001: 0
TV-station owner and muckraking newsman Sharma is one of Guyana's most recognizable and popular figures. Although the elite disparage his Creolese dialect, poorer Guyanese gravitate to his man-of-the-people demeanor. Sharma thought he had won a National Assembly seat in 2001 but a recalculation showed he lost it by only a few votes. The GoG took Sharma's TV channel off the air during the January 2005 floods because it deemed his news broadcasts too critical of the government's response to the disaster.

Guyana Action Party/Rise Organize And Rebuild (GAP/ROAR)
Presidential candidate: Paul Hardy, GAP leader
Prime Minister candidate: Ravi Dev, ROAR leader
Seats won in 2001: GAP/WPA 2, ROAR 1
GAP and ROAR are all that remain of the "big tent" concept for a coalition of smaller opposition parties to run together. Hardy's constituency is among the Amerindian communities in Guyana's hinterland. Dev draws his support from rural Indo-Guyanese.

The United Force (TUF)
Presidential candidate: Manzoor Nadir
Prime Minister candidate: Michael Abraham
Seats won in 2001: 1
Nadir is Minister of Tourism, Industry, and Commerce in the PPP/C government, but contested the election independently.

A few small parties that had been expected to run have pulled out of the election. The Working People's Alliance (WPA) announced July 25 that it would boycott the elections. The party joined forces with GAP in 2001 and won two seats. The WPA was an instrumental part of the Marxist anti-PNC government movement in the 1970s and 1980s, but had become less relevant in recent years, too academic, and its constituency has dwindled -- it may not be back. Neither the Unity Party (led by Joey Jagan, son of former President and PPP leader Cheddi Jagan) nor Amcit businessman Peter Ramsaroop's Vision Guyana -- one-man outfits that failed to latch onto a coalition -- contested the 2006 election.

In the 2006 election, 68.7% of Indians voted for the PPP/C while only 3.7% of Blacks voted for that party. Alternatively, the PNC is the preferred political party of Black citizens; 75.1% of Blacks voted for this party, whereas only 1.7% of Indians voted for the PNC. Therefore, it appears that the two main ethnic groups in Guyana have very different party preferences. Finally, the AFC gathers votes from all ethnic groups, mainly from Mixed-race citizens (39.6%) and the Black population (31.7%).

Although all five parties competing in the 2011 elections signed a code of conduct prepared by the GECOM, hours after the ceremony the opposition coalition, A Partnership for National Unity (APNU), accused the ruling PPP/C of violating the code by distributing leases for land to residents of the Essequibo Coast. During the campaign GECOMs Media Monitoring Unit highlighted three problem areas in media portrayal of political parties, including inequitable reporting by certain outlets, publication of two racially divisive articles, and use of unscientific polling data. Nonetheless, the unit concluded that there were few major infringements of a separate media code of conduct.

National and regional elections were held in May 2015. A coalition of parties formed by A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) and the Alliance for Change (AFC) won by a slim margin against the Peoples Progressive Party (PPP/C). The coalition leader and former opposition leader Brigadier David Granger became president. The general elections resulted in the first change in ruling party in 23 years. International observers concluded that the elections were free, fair, and credible.

While supporters of the two major parties (the PPP/C and APNU) were drawn largely from the Indo-Guyanese and Afro-Guyanese communities, respectively, political party leadership was more diverse. The cabinet was also ethnically diverse, mirroring the ethnic makeup of the general population. Seven cabinet members were Afro-Guyanese, including the prime minister and the head of the presidential secretariat. The ethnically diverse National Assembly included seven indigenous members; there were also two Amerindian cabinet ministers.

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