Legislative elections were held in Guyana on November 28, 2011. All 65 seats in the National Assembly were up for election. The South American country’s unicameral legislature has 40 members elected through party-list PR in a national constituency and 25 members elected through party-list PR in geographic constituencies The head of state, the President, is responsible for appointing the Prime Minister and cabinet. Each party list must nominate a candidate who will become President (automatically, it seems) if that party wins the most seats in Parliament. The President can dissolve Parliament, but there are little grounds for Parliament to remove the President (mental incapacity and major violations of the constitution). The President is not a member of the National Assembly, though the Prime Minister is. Like in presidential regimes, the President is both head of state and government.
Guyana is a little-known country with a very interesting history and politics which are well worth following if you’re interested in ‘ethnicized politics’. Guyanese politics are centered around race and ethnicity. The country, which became independent of the UK in 1966 and a republic in 1970, is dominated by two major ethnic groups: Indo-Guyanese and Afro-Guyanese. Indo-Guyanese are of East Indian descent and were brought to Guyana to work as indentured servants on sugar plantations in rural areas following the abolition of slavery. They make up 43.5% of the population. Afro-Guyanese, 30% of the population, are of Black African descent and are the descendants of the first slaves brought to Guyana, but in the twentieth century they migrated to urban areas where they now make up a majority of the population. In the past, Afro-Guyanese – especially mulattoes – formed the economic elite of the country in the urban areas, but there is now a large Indo-Guyanese middle-class although they remain largely rural (meaning in this sense ‘coastal’ more than ‘in the bush’) in their settlement. 16.7% are of mixed race and 9.2% and indigenous Native Americans.
Race has really defined politics since the late 1950s. The socialist nationalist People’s Progressive Party (PPP) was born as a multi-ethnic party led by Linden Burnham (black) and Cheddi Jagan (Indian), but by 1957 it split into two racially-defined parties led by one of the two dominant personalities of the era: the Burnham PPP became the People’s National Congress (PNC) while the Jagan PPP remained known as the PPP. Burnham originally moved to the right and abandoned Marxist rhetoric in favour of racial rhetoric against Jagan, who led the left-wing faction of the PPP. Burnham’s PNC won the 1964 elections and seized power to rule until 1992. Under Burnham, Guyana turned more and more into a single-party socialist regime. Electoral fraud was rampant, providing the PNC with huge majorities. The state and PNC became synonyms, and intimidation of Indo-Guyanese became widespread. As the economy collapsed and Burnham died in 1985, his successor Desmond Hoyte was forced to abandon socialist policies and democratize the system. Jagan’s PPP won the free 1992 elections. Following his death in 1997, it was his white US-born widow Janet Jagan who became President, ruling until she resigned in favour of Finance Minister Bharrat Jagdeo who has ruled since 1999. Reelected in 2006, Jagdeo’s government has been fairly popular because of his social policies and a fiscal reform. Jagdeo retired this year in favour of Donald Ramotar.
The opposition includes the PNC, which in this election ran as the “A Partnership for National Unity” (APNU) alliance with smaller parties. Its base remains largely Afro-Guyanese (by consequence urban), and its presidential candidate is Afro-Guyanese. The largest non-ethnic party is the Alliance for Change, which urges voters to “vote for change, not race”. Its candidate is Indo-Guyanese. The United Force (TUF) is a small right-wing party. There appears to be some unofficial rule that the two main racial groups will split the two offices: the current President is Indo-Guyanese, but the Prime Minister is Afro-Guyanese. The APNU’s presidential candidate is black, but his PM candidate is Indian.
PPP 48.6% (-5.73%) winning 32 seats (-4)
APNU 40.81% (+5.35%) winning 26 seats (+3)
AFC 10.32% (+2.15%) winning 7 seats (+2)
TUF 0.26% (-0.61%) winning 0 seats (-1)
Without much surprise, the PPP was returned to office and Ramotar was elected President although the PPP now falls short of an overall majority like in 1997. The election seems to have gone off without too many problems, there was no ethnic violence reported after the results were announced.
The geographical distribution of the votes is pretty much in line with the ethnic distribution. Those regions with heavy Indian majorities (along the coast and the border with Suriname) voted heavily for the PPP, while the urban regions of Georgetown and Linden – the two where Afro-Guyanese form the majority – remained loyal to the APNU/PNC. The more random distribution is that of the Amerindian vote. Barima-Waini (region 1) has a 62% Amerindian majority and voted heavily PPP. Cuyuni-Mazaruni (region 7), which is 42% Amerindian, 38% mixed and 11% African voted PNC. Potaro-Siparuni (region 8), which is 76% Amerindian voted for the AFC. But Upper Takutu-Upper Essequibo (region 9), which is 89% Amerindian, voted PPP.