Guyana is a parliamentary democracy with a lively press and a robust civil society. However, elections in March 2020 were marred by attempted fraud perpetrated by the incumbent government, and 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.
- Irfaan Ali of the opposition People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) was sworn in as president in August after being declared the winner of the March general election. Former president David Granger, leading a coalition of the A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) and the Alliance for Change (AFC), had declared himself the winner, but evidence of irregularities prompted a recount that favored Ali, and court decisions and international pressure eventually led the Granger government to hand over power.
- Following a rise in racial tensions during the election crisis, violence between Indo-Guyanese and Afro-Guyanese villagers in September left four people dead in Berbice Region.
- Guyana largely avoided the global first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, but cases began a steady rise in August; according to researchers at the University of Oxford, the country registered over 6,300 cases and over 160 deaths by year’s end.
|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 for a maximum of two five-year terms.
Irfaan Ali of the opposition PPP/C became president in August 2020 following a hotly contested recount of the March election and multiple rounds of litigation. Balloting had been due since March 2019, after Granger and the APNU-AFC coalition lost a vote of confidence in December 2018. However, government stalling and a series of procedural disputes followed, and elections were not called until October 2019. Results announced by the government following the March 2020 election were based on a tally that included alterations to the count from the country’s largest voting district, leading to accusations of government fraud. Following protests and lawsuits, Guyana’s High Court ordered a recount, but political maneuvering and courtroom battles continued for months until the government finally accepted the recount results establishing Ali’s narrow victory.
|Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections?||3.003 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 2020 elections, the PPP/C won 33 seats and the APNU-AFC coalition secured 31 seats, while the union of A New United Guyana (ANUG), the Liberty and Justice Party (LJP) and The New Movement (TNM) was allocated 1 seat. European Union (EU) observers reported that the March election was competitive and vote casting was generally free, although polarization, unregulated party and campaign finance, and a lack of transparency characterized the preelectoral period. Moreover, according to the EU observation mission, the integrity of the entire vote was “seriously compromised” by the manipulation of results in the largest electoral district, Region 4, by senior officials from the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM). The electoral crisis stretched for months and included a disputed, month-long recount, the attempted invalidation of tens of thousands of votes by GECOM’s chief elections officer, significant international pressure, and sometimes contradictory interventions from both Guyanese courts and the Caribbean Court of Justice. The eventual allocation of seats was based on the recount, completed in June and judged to be accurate by Caribbean Community (CARICOM) observers.
Score Change: The score declined from 4 to 3 due to irregularities that marred the preelectoral period and vote-tallying process, and amounted to an unsuccessful attempt by the former government to change the election’s outcome.
|Are the electoral laws and framework fair, and are they implemented impartially by the relevant election management bodies?||3.003 4.004|
Although observers characterized the balloting as generally free, both Guyana’s election laws and GECOM’s management received harsh criticism. In its final report, the EU observation mission described GECOM as dysfunctional, riven by polarization, opaque in its decision making, and derelict in its duty to control its officials from interfering with the election results. The mission recommended an overhaul of GECOM’s composition and practices. Following the change of government, multiple GECOM members faced criminal charges for abetting the fraudulent vote tabulation, including Chief Elections Officer Keith Lowenfield, who was arrested in September.
|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 as an anticipated influx of oil and gas revenues raises the stakes of controlling the distribution of state resources.
New parties emerged to contest the 2020 elections, with ANUG, LJP and TNM joining forces to gain one shared seat. 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 from 2015 to 2020. The PPP/C took power through elections in 2020, but significant pressure from the international community—especially the United States and CARICOM—and civil society was required to carry out a comprehensive recount and ensure a declaration of the PPP/C as the winner based on the recount results.
|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, racial, 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, 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 25 out of 70 seats in the National Assembly were won by women in 2020.
A consultation process on constitutional reform with Indigenous groups promised in late 2019 has largely failed to materialize. The small LJP party nominated Indigenous rights activist Lenox Shuman for president in 2020; although he was disqualified by GECOM for holding dual Canadian citizenship, Shuman became the deputy speaker of the National Assembly in September.
|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. The political stalemate in the aftermath of the 2020 election resulted in a period of policy paralysis, including delayed public spending due to the lack of a budget approved by parliament.
|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, graft remains widespread, and the discovery of rich oil and natural gas reserves beneath the country’s coastal waters has added urgency to the need for effective anticorruption reforms.
|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 allows 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.
In 2017, Guyana joined the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), which requires countries to submit reports detailing the use of revenue obtained from the extraction of their natural resources, though as of the end of 2020 the government had published an EITI report for only the 2017 fiscal year. Critics have suggested that Guyana’s negotiation of its initial set of oil contracts, conducted in private negotiations with individual companies rather than through open auctions, resulted in unfavorable terms for the government.
|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 threatened journalists. Criminal defamation charges can draw up to two years in prison.
The Guyana National Broadcasting Authority, whose board is appointed by the president, has been accused of partisan bias in its regulatory and licensing decisions. According to EU observers, state-run print and television outlets displayed “overt bias” in favor of the ruling APNU-AFC during the 2020 election campaign, while several private outlets provided highly favorable coverage to the PPP/C.
|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 that could be used to stifle dissent online, according to critics.
|Is there freedom of assembly?||4.004 4.004|
The authorities generally uphold the right to peaceful assembly. In September 2020, police used tear gas and pellets to disperse protesters after demonstrations over the killings of two Afro-Guyanese teenagers turned violent; peaceful demonstrations linked to the same incident proceeded without incident.
|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. In July 2020, the nongovernmental Guyana Human Rights Association suffered an arson attack on its offices.
|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. In September and October 2020, health care workers engaged in protests and threatened strikes over pay and working conditions, prompting the government to threaten criminal and civil penalties before acceding to negotiations.
|Is there an independent judiciary?||2.002 4.004|
The courts are impaired by political disputes, staff shortages, and lack of resources. 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 in the hands of acting placeholders as of 2020 due to the ongoing failure to agree on appointments. Other judges are appointed by the president on the advice of a Judicial Service Commission, which is also selected with input from the opposition. Guyana’s courts played a mixed role during the 2020 election crisis. A June decision by the Court of Appeal bolstered the Granger government’s position that large numbers of votes should be invalidated. However, when the Caribbean Court of Justice—which serves as Guyana’s apex judicial body—overruled this decision, the Court of Appeal confirmed that GECOM must declare a winner based on the recount-based vote tally, which favored the PPP/C.
|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. As of November 2020, the prison population stood at over 140 percent of capacity, with 40 percent of inmates in pretrial detention. A new attorney general and legal affairs minister, Anil Nandlall, took office in August 2020 promising to reduce the use of custodial sentences in favor of community service. Police officers do not always operate with professionalism; some have reportedly accepted bribes and committed a variety of other crimes.
|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 prison conditions persist. The rate of violent crime has fallen somewhat in recent years, but remains stubbornly high.
The threat of territorial conflict with Venezuela remained present in 2020. In December, the International Court of Justice ruled that it had jurisdiction and would adjudicate the border dispute.
|Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population?||2.002 4.004|
Indo-Guyanese people, who make up 40 percent of the total population, predominate within the business sector, while Afro-Guyanese hold most public sector positions. A history of interethnic violence and the organization of politics along ethnic lines makes communal violence a perennial concern. In September 2020, two Afro-Guyanese teenagers were murdered in a largely Indo-Guyanese region, leading to protests and the killings of two Indo-Guyanese people.
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. Guyana’s nine principal Indigenous groups still 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 legal procedures, as well as by unauthorized encroachment and resource exploitation by outsiders.
|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 2020, citing legal reforms, a successful trafficking conviction and sentencing, and new plans aimed at eliminating child labor. However, investigations and prosecutions remained inadequate, male victims went largely unsupported, and labor inspectors remained unprepared to effectively combat trafficking.
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Global Freedom Score73 100 free