Guyana is a parliamentary democracy that features regular elections, a lively press, and a robust civil society. However, violent crime and discrimination against indigenous and LGBT+ people remain significant problems. The recent discovery of rich offshore oil and natural gas reserves has raised the stakes of anticorruption reforms and revived traditional ethnopolitical divisions.
- In September, President David Granger scheduled general elections for March 2, 2020. His government, a coalition consisting of A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) and the Alliance for Change (AFC), had lost a no-confidence vote in December 2018, but it delayed the announcement of elections for much of 2019 through legal challenges and procedural disputes.
- The largely Indo-Guyanese People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C), the country’s main opposition group, organized protests against the predominantly Afro-Guyanese governing coalition over its failure to schedule elections.
- In a sign of progress on anticorruption reforms, the State Assets Recovery Agency began investigating oil licenses that had been awarded in previous years. The country’s first barrel of crude oil was produced in December.
|Was the current head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections?||3.003 4.004|
The president, who serves as both chief of state and head of government, appoints the cabinet, though ministers are collectively responsible to the National Assembly. Parties designate a presidential candidate ahead of National Assembly elections, with the winning party’s candidate assuming the presidency. The president serves five-year terms, and a 2018 ruling by the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) confirmed a 2001 constitutional amendment that limited presidents to two terms in office.
David Granger, head of the APNU-AFC coalition, became president after the bloc won the 2015 National Assembly elections. The government narrowly lost a confidence vote in December 2018, meaning new elections were due by March 2019. However, the government challenged the validity of the vote in court, delaying the elections. After the CCJ upheld the no-confidence vote in July, the announcement of an election date was further stalled by disputes about voter registration, the appointment of an elections commission chair, and other procedural matters. In September, Granger finally scheduled elections for March 2, 2020, just three weeks before they would have been due without a no-confidence vote.
Score Change: The score declined from 4 to 3 because the government raised a series of legal and procedural obstacles that delayed elections throughout the year following a no-confidence vote in late 2018.
|Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections?||4.004 4.004|
Members of the unicameral, 65-seat National Assembly are elected to five-year terms; 25 representatives are elected in 10 geographical constituencies, while 40 are elected by proportional representation in one nationwide constituency. Up to seven unelected cabinet ministers and parliamentary officials may also hold ex-officio seats.
In the 2015 elections, the APNU-AFC coalition won 50.3 percent of the vote and 33 seats, ending 23 years of rule by the PPP/C, which won 32 seats. The transfer of power was smooth and peaceful. Observers reported a tense atmosphere on election day and recommended numerous electoral reforms, but they generally praised the conduct of the vote.
|Are the electoral laws and framework fair, and are they implemented impartially by the relevant election management bodies?||3.003 4.004|
The Carter Center, after monitoring the 2015 polls, made multiple recommendations on how to improve the fairness and efficiency of electoral laws. It expressed some concern over the independence and capacity of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM).
The independence of GECOM was the subject of growing controversy beginning in 2017, when President Granger unilaterally appointed his own candidate as the commission’s chairman. The constitution requires the president to choose from a list submitted by the leader of the opposition, but Granger had rejected multiple lists of nominees. The CCJ ruled in June 2019 that the appointment was unconstitutional, and a new chair, Claudette Singh, was appointed in July with cross-party support.
Some political parties raised doubts during the year about the accuracy of the voter registry. The old list expired in April 2019, and a new house-to-house registration exercise conducted over the summer was complicated by political and legal disputes. Verification of the final voter list was pending at year’s end.
|Do the people have the right to organize in different political parties or other competitive political groupings of their choice, and is the system free of undue obstacles to the rise and fall of these competing parties or groupings?||4.004 4.004|
Political parties may form freely, and they generally operate without interference. A long-standing deadlock between two major parties with different ethnic bases had softened somewhat in recent years, with the multiethnic AFC emerging alongside the predominantly Afro-Guyanese APNU and the mainly Indo-Guyanese PPP/C. However, ethnopolitical divisions have sharpened following the disputed 2018 no-confidence vote and as the anticipated influx of oil and gas revenues approaches.
New parties have emerged to contest the 2020 elections, including A New and United Guyana, the Liberty and Justice Party, the Federal United Party, and the Democratic National Congress.
There are no legal provisions allowing independent candidates to stand for the presidency.
|Is there a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections?||4.004 4.004|
The PPP/C ruled from 1992 to 2015, and the APNU-AFC victory in that year’s elections marked only the second democratic rotation of power in the country’s modern history. The orderly handover demonstrated the ability of opposition parties to win elections and enter government. The PPP/C made important gains in the 2018 municipal elections and was expected to mount a strong challenge in the 2020 national elections.
|Are the people’s political choices free from domination by forces that are external to the political sphere, or by political forces that employ extrapolitical means?||3.003 4.004|
Voters are largely free to make their own political choices. However, there is concern that politics may be improperly influenced by the largely Indo-Guyanese economic elite.
|Do various segments of the population (including ethnic, religious, gender, LGBT, and other relevant groups) have full political rights and electoral opportunities?||2.002 4.004|
Women and ethnic minorities have equal political rights under the law, though ethnic divisions have long played a powerful role in politics. Indigenous people, who make up about 10 percent of the population, remain politically marginalized. At least one third of each party’s candidate list must consist of women, and 21 out of 69 members of the National Assembly are women, but the interests of women are not well represented in the political sphere.
In 2019, the government took steps to conduct public consultations on constitutional reform with religious minorities and indigenous communities, an initiative that was first announced in 2017.
|Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government?||4.004 4.004|
The president and the legislative majority are generally able to create and implement policy without improper interference.
|Are safeguards against official corruption strong and effective?||2.002 4.004|
In recent years, the government has made progress in introducing durable safeguards against corruption, notably by strengthening controls on money laundering and empowering a new agency to audit state-owned companies. However, official corruption remains a serious problem, and the discovery of rich oil and natural gas reserves beneath the country’s coastal waters has added urgency to antigraft efforts.
During 2019, the State Assets Recovery Agency, an anticorruption body, was reportedly investigating leases awarded to oil companies in previous years.
|Does the government operate with openness and transparency?||2.002 4.004|
Laws designed to ensure government transparency are inconsistently upheld. A 2013 Access to Information Act is relatively weak, allowing the government to refuse requests with little or no justification.
A government integrity commission tasked with reviewing officials’ asset disclosures was reestablished in 2018 after a long dormancy.
Guyana’s application for membership in the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, which asks countries to submit reports detailing the proceeds they have gained from the extraction of their natural resources, was accepted in 2017.
|Are there free and independent media?||3.003 4.004|
Although freedom of the press is generally respected, government officials have filed defamation cases and occasionally made threats against journalists in response to negative coverage. Criminal defamation charges can draw up to two years in prison.
The opposition has accused the Guyana National Broadcasting Authority, whose board is appointed by the president, of partisan bias in its regulatory and licensing decisions. Concerns over the editorial independence of the state-owned Guyana Chronicle have also been raised in recent years.
|Are individuals free to practice and express their religious faith or nonbelief in public and private?||4.004 4.004|
Religious freedom is constitutionally guaranteed and generally respected in practice. Rules limiting visas for foreign missionaries and barring blasphemous libel are not actively enforced. Religious groups can register places of worship and receive associated benefits without difficulty.
|Is there academic freedom, and is the educational system free from extensive political indoctrination?||4.004 4.004|
Academic freedom is largely upheld.
|Are individuals free to express their personal views on political or other sensitive topics without fear of surveillance or retribution?||4.004 4.004|
People are generally free to express their views without fear of retaliation or other repercussions. However, a 2018 cybercrime law contains provisions on sedition, secrecy, and offenses against the state that could be used to stifle dissent online, according to the measure’s opponents.
|Is there freedom of assembly?||4.004 4.004|
The authorities have upheld the right to peaceful assembly in recent years. In September 2019, a confrontational opposition demonstration calling on President Granger to schedule elections was allowed to proceed, though a subsequent police statement warned that authorities would intervene to stop any repetition of what it called unlawful acts during the protest.
|Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations, particularly those that are engaged in human rights– and governance-related work?||4.004 4.004|
Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) operate freely. The government has consulted with NGOs on various policy initiatives, including measures designed to combat human trafficking.
|Is there freedom for trade unions and similar professional or labor organizations?||3.003 4.004|
The rights to form labor unions, bargain collectively, and strike are generally upheld, and unions are well organized. However, laws against antiunion discrimination are poorly enforced.
|Is there an independent judiciary?||2.002 4.004|
The courts are impaired by political disputes, staff shortages, and lack of resources. According to the constitution, the president must obtain the agreement of the leader of the opposition to appoint the chancellor of the judiciary and the chief justice; both positions remained vacant as of 2019, with placeholders serving in an acting capacity due to ongoing political disagreements about the appointments. Other judges are appointed by the president on the advice of a Judicial Service Commission, most of whose members are also chosen with input from the opposition.
|Does due process prevail in civil and criminal matters?||2.002 4.004|
Observance of due process safeguards is uneven. Defendants are often held in pretrial detention for periods longer than their maximum possible sentence. Police officers do not always operate with professionalism; some have reportedly accepted bribes and committed a variety of other crimes. A new police commissioner took office in 2018 with a mandate to make reforms and improve police conduct.
|Is there protection from the illegitimate use of physical force and freedom from war and insurgencies?||2.002 4.004|
Reports of police violence, abuse of detainees, and harsh, overcrowded prison conditions persist. The rate of violent crime has fallen somewhat in recent years but remains among the highest in the region.
The threat of territorial conflict with Venezuela subsided slightly in 2019. In late 2018, the Venezuelan navy drove off an oil company’s ship in Guyanese waters, claiming the ship was in Venezuelan territory. In September 2019, the International Court of Justice indicated that it would determine in March 2020 whether it had jurisdiction over the border dispute.
|Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population?||2.002 4.004|
Laws barring discrimination based on race, gender, and other categories are not effectively enforced. Women continue to suffer from workplace bias and significantly lower pay compared with men. Despite some recent advances, Guyana’s nine principal indigenous groups face disparities in the provision of health care, education, and justice. Same-sex sexual activity is punishable with harsh jail terms, and the LGBT+ community is subject to police harassment and discrimination.
|Do individuals enjoy freedom of movement, including the ability to change their place of residence, employment, or education?||3.003 4.004|
There are no undue legal restrictions on freedom of movement, including with respect to residency, employment, and education. However, factors including bribery, racial polarization, and neglected infrastructure in some regions limit this right in practice.
|Are individuals able to exercise the right to own property and establish private businesses without undue interference from state or nonstate actors?||2.002 4.004|
The legal framework generally supports the rights to own property and operate private businesses, but complex regulations are unevenly enforced, and corruption and organized crime sometimes inhibit business activity. The land rights of indigenous communities are impaired by flawed consultation and demarcation procedures, as well as by unauthorized exploitation of titled indigenous lands.
|Do individuals enjoy personal social freedoms, including choice of marriage partner and size of family, protection from domestic violence, and control over appearance?||2.002 4.004|
Individual freedom on personal status matters such as marriage and divorce is generally respected, though same-sex marriage and civil unions are prohibited. Marriage before age 18 is allowed with judicial or parental permission, and such marriages are reportedly common. Domestic abuse is widespread, and conviction rates for such abuse and for sexual offenses are low.
|Do individuals enjoy equality of opportunity and freedom from economic exploitation?||2.002 4.004|
Legal protections against exploitative working conditions are not enforced consistently. Those working in the informal sector and extractive industries in the country’s interior are particularly vulnerable to abuses.
The US State Department detailed Guyana’s continued efforts to address human trafficking in 2019, citing increased funding of victim assistance, training of officials, and the establishment of an antitrafficking unit in the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission. However, victims who are men, children, or foreign nationals do not receive adequate support outside Georgetown, and screening procedures for foreign victims are not standardized. The number of victims from Venezuela has risen sharply in recent years.
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Global Freedom Score74 100 free