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Guyana - Politics

Chief Minister
Cheddi Berret JaganPPP30 May 195309 Oct 1953
Cheddi Berret JaganPPP05 Sep 196112 Dec 1964
Linden Forbes Sampson BurnhamPNC-R 12 Dec 196426 May 1966
Prime Minister
Linden Forbes Sampson BurnhamPNC-R 26 May 196606 Oct 1980
Linden Forbes Sampson Burnham PNC-R 06 Oct 198006 Aug 1985
Hugh Desmond HoytePNC-R 06 Aug 198509 Oct 1992
Cheddi Berret JaganPPP09 Oct 199206 Mar 1997
Janet Rosenberg JaganPPP19 Dec 199711 Aug 1999
Bharrat JagdeoPPP 11 Aug 199903 Dec 2011
Donald RamotarPPP03 Dec 201116 May 2015
David Arthur GrangerPNC-R16 May 2015

Race and ideology have long been the dominant political influences in Guyana. Traditionally, Guyanese who support the People's Progressive Party (PPP) are predominantly of South Asian origin or Indo-Guyanese, while those who support the People's National Congress (PNC) are mostly of African origin, or Afro-Guyanese Bitter internal divisions between the Afro-Guyanese community, which represent approximately 30 percent of the population, and the larger Indo-Guyanese community which comprises 43.4 percent, often turn violent.

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.

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. 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.

A lack of legal clarity over voter registration rules, in particular the legality of Guyanese remaining on the voter rolls after emigrating, fed a political stalemate that delayed the 2006 elections as opposition parties demanded a full house-to-house verification of the voter list. Ultimately, the election was held using the 2001 voting list--which the opposition had earlier deemed valid--plus new registrations.

In elections held on 28 August 2006, President Jagdeo was once again re-elected with an increased majority, although the voter turnout was much lower at 68%. The presidential candidates did not hold any public debates. The parties often resorted to mudslinging and name-calling. When they do turn to issues, crime/security and jobs are the main focus. The PPP/C's usual tactic was to compare statistics of how Guyana is faring now compared to pre-1992 during the PNC's 28-year reign. The opposition parties key on Guyana's economic stagnation, the PPP/C's corruption and its perceived ties to narco-criminality.

The People's Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) won a landslide. With 338,839 total votes cast, the ruling PPP/C received 183,887 (54.6%) votes, the People's National Congress Reform (PNCR) 114,283 (34%), the Alliance for Change (AFC) 28,336 (8.4%), the Guyana Action Party- Rise Organize and Rebuild (GAP-ROAR) 4,249 (1%), and The United Force (TUF) 2,694 (.8%). Under the Largest Remaining Hare (LRH) formula for determining the distribution of seats in Parliament, the PPP will receive 36 seats, PNC 22 seats, AFC 5 seats, GAP-ROAR 1 seat, and TUF 1 seat. Although the PPP garnered a higher percentage of the vote this election (54.7%) versus the 2001 election, the actual number of votes received by the party fell by more than 25,000 (209,031 v. 183,887).

The elections attracted a good deal of international attention with election observers being sent from several international agencies including the UK. The Organization of American States and the Commonwealth observed the 2006 elections and considered them to be largely free and fair. Unlike the 2001 elections, when there was serious post-election violence, the 2006 elections passed off peacefully. In remarks prior to, and following, the election President Jagdeo promised to bring about Constitutional change and to foster an enhanced framework of political cooperation between parliamentary parties.

A general lack of trust between the predominantly Indo-Guyanese PPP/C and the almost exclusively Afro-Guyanese PNC/R persists. Co-founded prior to the 2006 parliamentary elections by disaffected members of the PPP/C and PNC/R, the Alliance For Change party attempted to bridge the political and racial divide, but held only five seats in Parliament and has gained minimal traction. Jagdeo's cabinet-which roughly mirrors Guyana's diverse ethnic makeup - was 30% Afro-Guyanese.

Guyana's political future depended on whether Jagdeo demands honesty and real governance reforms from his ministers-or just political fidelity. Due to constitutional term limits, President Jagdeo was ineligible to run for reelection again when his term concluded in 2011.

On 28 November 2011, voters elected PPP/C candidate Donald Ramotar to a five-year term as president, replacing outgoing PPP/C president Jagdeo. However, the PPP/C gained only 48.6 percent of the vote, and President Ramotar therefore presided over the first minority government in parliament since independence in 1966. International observers, including teams from the Organization of American States, Caribbean Community, Commonwealth, and Union of South American Nations, generally concluded that the elections were substantially free, transparent, and peaceful and that they were well administered.

Electoral observer criticisms centered on the need for greater timeliness in transmission of preliminary and final results and for increased womens participation in the electoral process. Observers also noted that Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) members are political appointees, saying this compromises the effectiveness and integrity of the commission, which needs to be independent and above politics at all levels.

President Donald Ramotar's decision to suspend parliament to avoid a no-confidence motion against him plunged the country into political crisis. Calling on a little-known provision in the constitution known as proroguing, Ramotar disbanded the parliament for a maximum of six months. The leader of the opposition, Moses Nagamootoo, who was responsible for the bid for the vote of no confidence, denounced the administration as "a recalcitrant and renegade government.

Early general elections were held in May 2015. The A Partnership for National Unity+Alliance for Change (APNU+AFC) coalition won a one-seat majority in the National Assembly, ending 23 years of rule by the Peoples Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C). The largest components of that coalition were the Alliance for Change (AFC) and the Peoples National Congress/Reform, which constituted most of the coalition A Partnership for National Unity (APNU).

The Partnership for National Unity and Alliance for Change coalition, led by former army general David Granger, won the election by a small margin of 5,000 votes against the ruling party, the Indian-dominated People's Progressive Party (PPP). "We are a six-party coalition and we are the closest Guyana has ever gotten to a government of national unity and that makes me very happy," Granger said at his Georgetown home after results were announced.

Former leader of the opposition David Granger led the election coalition parties APNU+AFC and became president. Preceding the election, the uncertainty slowed investment because implementation of many governmental projects were either put on hold or curtailed until after elections. Upon taking power after more than 20 years of a PPP/C government, APNU+AFC reorganized several ministries, but has had some difficulty making the improvements they promised during the campaign.

Municipal elections were last held in 1994, and were more than a decade overdue. In 2008, in anticipation of nationwide municipal elections in 2009, electoral authorities completed a national voter re-registration exercise. This exercise was scrutinized by the major political parties, and was designed to produce a fresh and widely accepted voter list. Municipal elections scheduled for April 2010 have been postponed. No new date has been set, but they are expected to take place before December 1, 2010.

Local government elections were held in March 2016 in all eligible communities throughout the country and were considered free, fair, and credible by international observers. Although the law provides for local government elections every three years, there had been no local government elections since 1994.

The APNU+AFC saw its government collapse on December 21, 2018 in a 33 to 32 of no-confidence in Parliament. The Guyana Elections Commission, the opposition and the government are at odds over whether general elections could be held in 90 days by March 19 or 20 as a result of the National Assemblys passage of the no-confidence motion on December 21, 2018. This 90-day clock for holding general elections had been ticking since the December 21 vote, but the government had not recognized this, neither had the Guyana Elections Commission shown any sign of observing it.

Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo appeared poised to strike a compromise for elections to be held in July based on a claims and objections period for the voters list. The opposition and governing coalition as well as their election commissioners are at odds over whether a new list should be generated by house-to-house registration or the existing list should be refreshed by claims and objections.

The Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) is constitutionally required to be ready to conduct elections at any time within three months (90 days) of the 21 December 2018 passage of the No Confidence Motion in the National Assembly. The governing coalition and its elections commissioners have been clamouring for a fresh voters list to be generated by house-to-house registration to remove the dead and migrants. However, the opposition Peoples Progressive Party (PPP) has accused GECOM of being complicit with government in frittering away the 90 days to deliberately delay general elections. GECOMs administration says once it gets the green-light, preparations can take 148 days, but house-to-house registration can take nine months.

The voters list is defective because it is bloated with dead persons and migrants. Three of the GECOM Commissioners said that a new list had to be prepared and that could take as much as 18 months. GECOMs administration said house-to-house registration would take nine months, while holding elections after a Claims and Objections period to refresh the existing list that expires on April 30, 2019 could take about 148 days during which polling day officials would be trained and sensitive election materials would be procured.

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