GEORGETOWN, Guyana – What started off as a very normal and standard electoral process in Guyana, quickly turned into one of the most astounding local elections that the country has had in recent times.
On March 2, citizens of the CARICOM state went to the polls to vote for the next governing party: a choice between the ruling Partnership for National Unity and Alliance for Change (ANPU-AFC), led by President David Granger and the main opposition, the Peoples Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) led by Irfaan Ali.
As the polls closed on the night of March 2, the results from the polling regions trickled in slower than usual. Hours turned to days as the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) announced that they were having “several hiccups” which halted the counting process in a number of regions.
Still, by March 4, two days after the polls had closed, the returning officers in nine of the 10 regions declared official results, with the main opposition party, holding a significant 51,439-vote lead in the elections.
Then on Thursday, March 5, the electoral commission made the decision to release unverified results from Region Four, the largest voting region in the country that propelled the ruling party ahead in the vote count, and therefore, winning the elections. Not only was the commission’s move a direct violation of a court injunction, but sparked confusion and allegations of electoral fraud on the part of the ruling party.
The announcement of the results was criticized by four groups of international observers and main Western embassies, who said the process did not follow the country’s laws and lacked transparency.
In their joint statement on Friday, March 6, the US, British, Canadian and EU officials all said they were worried about alleged electoral fraud influencing the results of the 2 March vote.
“We call on President Granger to avoid a transition of government which we believe would be unconstitutional as it would be based on a vote tabulation process that lacked credibility and transparency,” the joint statement said.
Despite the commission’s announcement of unverified results, the GECOM has not yet declared a winner of the elections. That did not stop President Granger from celebrating the announcement on Thursday, with his supporters decked out in green, chanting “black power wins again.”
Meanwhile, the main opposition party and Guyana’s main private-sector association, which formed part of the observer mission, accused the head of Guyana’s electoral commission of allowing “attempts to perpetuate election fraud.” Opposition leaders say the elections commission altered Region Four’s results to give Mr Granger’s coalition a victory over the opposition PPP. They have denounced the results and say the PPP won the election.
US Western Hemisphere affairs official Michael Kozak said “no candidate should declare victory or be sworn in “while serious questions remain about credibility of March 2 elections.”
Billions At Stake for Guyana’s Next Government
Billions are at stake for the next government of Guyana – the world’s newest petrol state. Production in the offshore oil fields, estimated to contain at least 8bn barrels, began in 2019. Economy experts say that the first proceeds from the oil boom is expected to generate tens of billions of dollars for Guyana this decade.
Thus, a disputed election and corrupted start to a new era of economic growth in Guyana could derail the country’s plans to use its newfound oil wealth to spur economic development.
Many local politicians have agreed that the confusing elections have been a terrible start to this new era. “This is an embarrassment that this emerging oil giant has to be sitting here at this table now and speaking on the brink of a dictatorship,” said Kian Jabour of a minor opposition party, A New and United Guyana.
The government said it expected up to $300m in oil revenues this year alone, which if managed properly, could be largely beneficial for the country of 800,000 residents.