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Guyana Pre-Election Watch: May 5, 2015 General Elections

May 7, 2015

Washington, DC- May 11, 2015, Guyanese citizens will vote in national and regional elections to elect a president, prime minister, 65 members of the National Assembly, and members of the Regional Democratic Councils that govern each of Guyana’s 10 Administrative Regions.  The ruling People’s Progressive Party-Civic Party (PPP/C) alliance has been in control of government for some 22 years, although it lost its majority parliament in 2011, winning only 32 of 65 seats.

Context

The 2015 elections will take place following intense inter-party rivalry, legislative impasses, and an extended 2014 summer recess.  Over this backdrop, President Donald Ramotar suspended the National Assembly on November 10, the second legislative prorogation in Guyana’s history.  In late January, he announced a date for early national elections, May 11, 2015. The formal dissolution of parliament followed at the end of February.  A struggling economy, perceptions of corruption and lagging employment opportunities for youth, added to a list of concerns that led many observers to think that early elections would enable a solution.

Political Parties

Guyana’s political landscape is dominated by two party coalitions. The governing PPP/C party is comprised of the dominant Peoples Progressive Party (PPP) and the smaller Civic Party (C). The PPP/C first contested Guyanese elections as a coalition in 1992 and has captured the presidency ever since. A newly formed opposition coalition comprised of A Partnership for a National Unity (APNU)—made up of the Guyana Action Party (GAP); National Front Alliance (NFA); Working People’s Alliance, and the dominant, former governing People's National Congress Reform (PNCR)—and the Alliance For Change which are now referred to as APNU+AFC.

The APNU+AFC coalition formalized their partnership in February 2015 with the Cummingsburg Accord, an agreement in which the APNU would nominate the presidential candidate and AFC the prime ministerial candidate.  The Accord also call for a 60/40 percent split in favor of APNU for the allocation of seats in the National Assembly under Guyana’s hybrid proportional representation electoral system.  

In the 2011 National Elections, PPP/C won the presidency and legislature with a narrow margin of 48.62 percent of the vote to APNU’s 40.83 percent. The PPP/C currently holds 32 seats in the National Assembly to APNU’s 26 and the AFC’s 7. The PPP/C fell one seat short of retaining its majority in the Assembly, producing a minority in parliament with a majority in the executive for the first time in the country’s history.

Presidential Candidates

Eight parties will contest the National and Regional Elections. Besides Guyana’s two main political alliances, several smaller parties have put forward candidates including: the Healing the Nation Theocracy Party, the Independent Party, the Organization for the Victory of the People Party (OVPP), the United Force (TFU) and the United Republican Party (UTP). However, only PPP/C and APNU+AFC are contesting the presidential and prime ministerial positions.

Retired brigadier David Granger, a former commander of the Guyana Defense Force and National Security Advisor to a former PNC Party president, is the APNU/AFC presidential candidate. His running mate for prime minister, is Moses Nagamootoo, a former AFC member of the National Assembly who has a 30 year political career—first as a member of the PPP and then the AFC. The party platform, which includes an “Action Programme for the First 100 Days,” focuses on, among other priorities: stimulating the economy through various infrastructure projects, lowering taxes, increasing opportunities for youth civic engagement, and raising government workers salaries.

Current President of Guyana, Donald Ramotar is running for re-election as the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) candidate. President Ramotar served as General Secretary of the PPP from 1997-201. His running mate, Ms. Elisabeth Harper, is a political newcomer to politics, serving previously as a public servant, most recently as Director-General of Guyana’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. She is the first woman in Guyana to be nominated for Prime Minister. The party’s “Our Vision-Guyana Version 2.0” platform, also dubbed VISION 2020, outlines a strategy to improve the education sector, upgrades to economic infrastructure in Amerindian communities, implementation a national housing policy to build 5,000 homes and increasing access to basic services for all citizens.

Elections at a Glance

Guyana’s electoral system directly elects a president, prime minister and 65 National Assembly members, 25 from the country’s ten geographic constituencies and the remaining 40 chosen on the basis of proportional representation from national lists presented by the political parties. Any party contesting seats for the National Assembly must present candidates in six of the geographic constituencies or for 13 of the 25 constituency seats. Any party can contest the race for seats on the Regional Democratic Councils (RDCs) in Guyana’s ten administrative regions.

A week prior to Election Day, Guyana’s Election Commission (GECOM) normally releases the final list of registered voters which will be present at all polling stations. Early voting took place May 2 for members of “Discipline Services”, military, police, prison employees, security forces and other emergency service providers. An estimated 7,540 people were eligible to vote at 84 polling stations across the country.  Those ballots are being secured at GECOM headquarters and will be counted at the same time as the votes of the civilian electorate on May 11. By most estimates, the contest for president and prime minister will be close, and GECOM anticipates a large voter turnout.

That being the case, the government of Guyana issued an open invitation to international organizations to observe the elections. The Commonwealth, the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), the Organization of American States, the United Nations, and the Union of South American Nations, the Carter Center and IRI comprise international groups. Domestic groups include: Blue Caps (a local NGO), the Electoral Assistance Bureau (EAB—IRI’s local partner), Georgetown Chamber of Commerce and Industry (GCCI), the Guyana Public Service Union (GPSU), and the Private Sector Commission (PSC).  

Implications

Partisan gridlock has delayed important anti-money laundering legislation, energy measures and deliberations over economic issues in the National Assembly.  To date, polls indicate a tight race between the PPP/C party in government and the challenger APNU/AFC, for both the presidency and Assembly seats with a large number of undecided voters.  One result could be a continuation of the status quo.  Another could be a change in the party in government, the first in 22 years. 

IRI in Guyana

IRI’s workshops, manuals and resource materials have helped strengthen the administrative capabilities of parliamentarians and assembly senior staff.  In addition, IRI has supported National Assembly efforts to expand its outreach to citizens through digital technology and television programming.  IRI workshops have encouraged women and university youth to polish their advocacy skills and expand their engagement in civic processes and dialogue.  Guyanese women and student groups have been most recently active in voter education. Moreover through town hall meetings, we have provided encouragement to a wide cross-section of civil society organizations to increase their outreach on electoral processes.