Can election result bring change in Guyana?

The Jesuit Superior in Guyana has advised caution over the result of the country’s General Election. On Thursday, the election board announced that the country’s multi-racial opposition coalition had polled 5,000 more votes than the People’s Progressive party (PPP) led by President Donald Ramotar, which has held power for the past 23 years. However, President Ramotar has challenged the result; and Fr Paul Martin SJ describes the mood in Guyana as still one of uncertainty.

“Shops are still closed and children are staying home from school,” he says. “And sadly the situation here is not as simple as some reports in the international media suggest.”

Guyanese politics is divided on racial lines yet prior to the 2011 elections retired army general and publisher, David Granger (pictured left) was able to forge  a coalition between the traditional Afro-Guyanese party (PNC) and a number of smaller parties to form APNU (A Partnership for National Unity). Shortly before the 2015 elections on 11 May, Granger was able to broker a deal with yet one more party - AFC, Alliance for Change - to form the (APNU+AFC) coalition. This coalition hoped to be able to attract the support of people from all racial groups. After the initial counting of votes, the ruling Indian-dominated People's Progressive Party (PPP/C) polled 201,457 votes, compared with the coalition’s 206,817.  Despite all international observer groups including the Carter Centre stating that the vote was held fairly, President Romotar has demanded a full recount.

Moving beyond racial tensions

“The initial count had given the opposition a 5,000 majority,” explains Fr Martin, “but the PPP are demanding a recount and are claiming they have evidence that some of the Statements of Poll submitted to the Guyanese Elections Commission are forgeries.  Till they accept defeat and bow out gracefully things remain uncertain.”

Earlier this week, Fr Martin said that whoever emerged as the winner in this week’s elections, it was clear that Guyana was entering into a new period in its history, with a whole generation of young Guyanese eager for change. “They are disillusioned with the whole political system and few believe the elections can really make any difference, though many fear a violent reaction by whoever loses them,” he wrote. He urged the people of Guyana to move beyond the racial tensions that have marred the electoral process since independence.

The election result was greeted by supporters of the coalition breaking into song and dance in villages, with one claiming: “We have shown that the old, divided way of thinking is fading and Guyana is changing.”

If the election results are confirmed, it will remain to be seen whether Mr Granger can deliver on his promise when he stated before the election: “the time has come to end winner-take-all politics, corruption, nepotism and the squandering of our resources." But Guyana now stands on the brink of having a government which – in Fr Martin’s words – “represents the interests of all racial groups and uses the resources of the country for a genuine common good".