Tensions rise in Guyana as vote counting drags on

AP News
Posted: Nov 30, 2011 6:32 PM
Tensions rise in Guyana as vote counting drags on

Tensions ran high in Guyana's capital on Wednesday as electoral officials slowly counted paper ballots two days after an apparently tight national election in the South American country.

Opposition parties alleged voting irregularities in various districts, while the governing People's Progressive Party claimed victory even though no partial returns had been announced.

The streets of the capital of Georgetown were largely empty after lunch Wednesday as many people went home, apparently worried about possible confrontations among competing street protests.

There was no obvious front-runner in Monday's presidential and parliamentary races because no independent opinion polls were conducted before the vote.

Electoral commission chairman Steve Surujbally gathered the leaders of the contesting parties and coalitions Wednesday to assure them that the counting process "has not (been) compromised in any way, shape or form" and to appeal for calm.

Surujbally said the commission hoped to announce results soon, after double-checking and certifying votes.

The lack of even partial counts increasingly frustrated citizens, candidates and international observers.

"These delays can only undermine confidence in the electoral process and fuel speculation by interveners who may wish to take advantage of the situation," the observer mission for the Organization of American States state in a statement Wednesday.

Retired army commander David Granger, who leads the Partnership For National Unity coalition, warned that delays in announcing results could lead to an "imminent security crisis."

Granger and coalition partners met with the electoral commission warning it not to allow or condone "any secret swearing in" _ a reference to 1997 when Janet Jagan was sworn in as Guyana's leader at a private ceremony, sparking rioting and looting by political opponents.

The campaign manager for the governing party, Agriculture Minister Robert Persaud, said his candidates were at a loss to know why the elections commission had not declared final results.

"We know we have won and they know it, too. We are not sure why they are not releasing the results," he told The Associated Press.

Persaud said he believed his party won about 53 percent of the votes, which would give it the presidency and control of the 65-seat parliament. He didn't say what he based that estimate on.

Rupert Roopnarine, the Partnership For National Unity's candidate for prime minister, said the coalition had seen nothing that would "point to a PPP victory" and it was "unlikely to accept any results showing such a scenario."

Nearly a half million people were eligible to cast ballots 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.