Guyana - Competitive Elections
By most accounts, competitive, democratic elections in Guyana began in 1992. At the insistence of President Jimmy Carter of the Carter Center, the parliament instituted important electoral changes to guarantee the impartiality and transparency of the electoral process. The principal reform concerned the composition of the Guyana Elections Commission. Parliament increased membership in the Guyana Elections Commission to seven, including three members each from the ruling and opposition parties and an independent Chairman. Another important reform required that the ballots be counted and the results compiled at the individual polling stations. A new list of voters was also compiled through a house-to-house registration process. While the reforms and changes enhanced the transparency of the electoral process in Guyana, elections have not been without controversy. Claiming disenfranchisement, protesters in 1992 rallied in front of GECOM headquarters and forced the evacuation of the electoral authorities. Violence erupted in and around Georgetown, but was eventually quelled by the army and police.
Cheddi Jagan served as Premier (1957-64) and then minority leader in Parliament until his election as President in 1992. One of the Caribbean's most charismatic and famous leaders, Jagan was a founder of the PPP, which led Guyana's struggle for independence. Over the years, he moderated his Marxist-Leninist ideology. After his election as President, Jagan demonstrated a commitment to democracy, followed a pro-Western foreign policy, adopted free market policies, and pursued sustainable development for Guyana's environment. Nonetheless, he continued to press for debt relief and a new global human order in which developed countries would increase assistance to less developed nations. Jagan died on March 6, 1997, and was succeeded by Samuel A. Hinds, whom he had appointed Prime Minister. President Hinds then appointed Janet Jagan, widow of the late President, to serve as Prime Minister.
In national elections on December 15, 1997, Janet Jagan was elected President, and her PPP party won a 55% majority of seats in Parliament. Mrs. Jagan had been a founding member of the PPP and was very active in party politics. In addition to becoming Guyana's first female president, she had also been Guyana's first female prime minister and vice president, two roles she performed concurrently before being elected to the presidency.
The PNC, which won just under 40% of the vote, disputed the results of the 1997 elections, alleging electoral fraud. Public demonstrations and some violence followed, until a CARICOM team came to Georgetown to broker an accord between the two parties, calling for an international audit of the election results, a redrafting of the constitution, and elections under the constitution within 3 years.
Elections took place on March 19, 2001. The 2001 elections represented a noted improvement from 1992 and 1997. The OAS Mission concluded that “the conduct of the elections was satisfactory” and uncovered no evidence of irregularities. Nevertheless, a breakdown in communication led to confusion and provoked anxiety. Technological problems prevented the reporting of results until four days after the election.
Incumbent President Jagdeo won re-election with a voter turnout of over 90%. More than 150 international observers representing six international missions witnessed the polling. The observers pronounced the elections fair and open although marred by some administrative problems. As in 1997, public demonstrations and some violence followed the election, with the opposition PNCR disputing the results. The political disturbances following the election partially overlapped and politicized a major crime wave that gripped Guyana from the spring of 2002 through May 2003. By summer 2003 the worst of the crime wave had abated, and agitation over the election had subsided.
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