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Guyana - Early Politics

Since the split of the multiracial People's Progressive Party (PPP) in 1955, politics has been based more on ethnicity than on ideology. Guyanese politics has on occasion been turbulent. 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).

Cheddi Jagan's PPP won the elections in 1957 and 1961 and he became British Guiana's first premier. At a constitutional conference in London in 1965, the UK Government agreed to grant independence to the colony but only after another election in which proportional representation would be introduced for the first time. Forbes Burnham became Prime Minister.

From 1964 to 1992, the People's National Congress (PNC) dominated Guyana's politics. The PNC draws its support primarily from urban Afro-Guyanese, and for many years declared itself a socialist vanguard party whose purpose was to make Guyana a nonaligned socialist state, in which the party, as in communist countries, was above all other institutions.

A majority of Indo-Guyanese have traditionally backed the PPP. Rice farmers and sugar workers in the rural areas form the bulk of PPP's support. Indo-Guyanese who dominate the country's urban business community also have provided important support to both parties, depending on which was in power at the time.

Following independence, and with the help of substantial foreign aid, social benefits were provided to a broader section of the population, specifically in health, education, housing, road and bridge building, agriculture, and rural development. During Forbes Burnham's last years, however, the government's attempts to build a socialist society, including banning importation of basic foodstuffs, caused a massive emigration of skilled workers, and, along with other economic factors, led to a significant decline in the overall quality of life in Guyana.

After Burnham's death in 1985, President Hoyte took steps to stem the economic decline, including strengthening financial controls over the parastatal corporations and supporting the private sector. In August 1987, at a PNC Congress, Hoyte announced that the PNC rejected orthodox communism and the one-party state.

As the elections scheduled for 1990 approached, Hoyte, under increasing pressure from inside and outside Guyana, gradually opened the political system. After a visit to Guyana by former U.S. President Jimmy Carter in 1990, Hoyte made changes in the electoral rules, appointed a new chairman of the Elections Commission, and endorsed putting together new voters' lists, thus delaying the election. The elections, which finally took place in 1992, were witnessed by 100 international observers, including a group headed by Mr. Carter and another from the Commonwealth of Nations. Both groups issued reports saying that the elections had been free and fair, despite violent attacks on the Elections Commission building on election day and other irregularities.





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