Guyana voters choose between 3 parties in election

AP News
Posted: Nov 28, 2011 7:11 PM
Guyana voters choose between 3 parties in election

A ruling party in power for nearly two decades faced off in national elections Monday against a raft of opposition parties that accused the government of rampant corruption and mismanagement.

There was no obvious front-runner in the race, with no independent opinion polls before the vote. Polling stations closed Monday evening, and official results were not expected until Wednesday.

Nearly half a million people were eligible to cast ballots for president and 65 parliament seats in Guyana, a small country on South America's northern shoulder whose economy depends on the export of commodities such as gold, bauxite, sugar, rice, shrimp and timber.

Seeking a fifth consecutive term in office, the ruling People's Progressive Party generally draws support from descendants of migrants from the Indian subcontinent. It was pitted against an opposition coalition led by a retired army commander and a party led by a local lawyer.

All were vying to dominate parliament and replace President Bharrat Jagdeo, who is leaving office because he has served the two-term maximum set by Guyana's constitution.

Donald Ramotar, a 61-year-old economist, was the governing party's presidential candidate. He pledged to continue Jagdeo's policies by safeguarding vital mining and agricultural sectors and improving education in Guyana, an Idaho-sized nation of roughly 780,000 people bordering the Caribbean, Venezuela, Brazil and Suriname.

After voting, Ramotar said he was confident of another victory by the People's Progressive Party, which held 36 of 65 seats in the last parliament.

"We have been able to demonstrate that we don't discriminate in our government policies and the resources of the country have been distributed to every single region very fairly," Ramotar told reporters. "We will win bigger this time."

The Partnership For National Unity coalition, led by retired army commander David Granger, accused the government of racial discrimination, allying with drug traffickers and turning a blind eye to corruption. He vowed to set up a national unity government if he won the presidency.

"I look forward to establishing a government which could represent all of the interests of our people," Granger said.

During the campaign, opposition candidates tried to gain mileage with long-standing allegations that Jagdeo has coddled drug traffickers. Jagdeo's government dismissed the allegations as empty political sloganeering.

There is no evidence that drugs are being produced in Guyana, but it is considered a transshipment point, especially for Colombian cocaine bound for the U.S. and Europe. The drugs are dropped by air to people on the ground in the jungle-covered interior, where there is scant police presence.

The Alliance For Change party led by 50-year-old attorney Khemraj Ramjattan, was widely expected to play spoiler in various districts, siphoning votes and attention from its two bigger rivals.

"We have to change this system of indecent governance and eliminate the rising tide of corruption in the country," Ramjattan said after voting.

After polling stations closed Monday evening, both opposition parties charged there were incidents of multiple voting in government strongholds and complained about scuffles outside some voting centers.

Steve Surujbally, chairman of the elections commission, said his agency was looking into several allegations from the opposition but he described them as "very, very, tiny" incidents that would not mar the elections.

"It did not go too badly, but we had some really stupid and nonsensical episodes that we are sorting out," Surujbally said.

Gordon Shirley, head of observers from the Organization of American States, said turnout appeared very high. By the early afternoon, more than half of the 476,000 eligible voters had cast their ballots, he said.

Petal Straughn, a 47-year-old school teacher, said she supported the Partnership For National Unity because she thinks Guyana desperately needs a change.

"I want (a government) that cares for the people, not one which cares about filling its own pockets and fleecing taxpayers," she said as her 21-year-old daughter, Coressa Henry, nodded in agreement.

Sukdeo Singh, a 61-year-old carpenter, said he was voting for continuity.

"I think basically everything is OK in the country," he said. "There is some bad but you can never get all good, never, so I stayed with the PPP."

Besides international observers from the Organization of American States, poll monitors also were sent by the Commonwealth and the 15-nation Caribbean Community.

(This version CORRECTS opposition party leader's name to Ramjattan instead of Ramjatta.)