Guyana is a parliamentary democracy with a lively press and a robust civil society. However, elections held in 2020 were marred by attempted fraud by the then incumbent government. Violent crime and discrimination against Indigenous and LGBT+ people remain significant problems. The exploitation of offshore oil and natural gas reserves has raised the stakes of anticorruption reforms and revived traditional ethnopolitical divisions.
- In January, a group of fishermen operating in Guyana’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) were arrested by the crew of a Venezuelan naval vessel. The fishermen were released in February.
- In June, opposition parliamentarian Annette Ferguson was arrested under the Cyber Crime Act (CCA) after saying that a Guyana Defence Force (GDF) officer was slated to take charge of a “killing squad.” Ferguson was bailed in July.
- In August, the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) dismissed Chief Elections Officer Keith Lowenfield, his deputy, and the returning officer for Region 4; Lowenfield had been accused of abetting a fraudulent vote tabulation during the 2020 elections. Former GECOM official Vishnu Persaud was chosen to succeed Lowenfield in December.
|Was the current head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections?
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.
Presidential balloting was due in March 2019 after then president David Granger and the coalition of A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) and the Alliance for Change (AFC) lost a 2018 no-confidence vote. Elections were called in October 2019 and held in March 2020. The electoral results were based on a tally that included alterations to the count from Guyana’s largest voting district, Region 4, leading to fraud allegations. The High Court ordered a recount, but political and courtroom maneuvering continued for months until the government ultimately accepted the results of a recount showing that Irfaan Ali of the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) won the presidency. Ali took his post that August.
|Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections?
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, the APNU-AFC coalition won 31, and 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 said the contest was competitive and generally free, although polarization, unregulated campaign finance, and a lack of transparency characterized the preelectoral period. EU observers said the poll’s integrity was “seriously compromised” by the manipulation of Region 4 results by senior GECOM officials. The eventual allocation of seats was based on the recount that was completed in June and judged to be accurate by Caribbean Community observers.
|Are the electoral laws and framework fair, and are they implemented impartially by the relevant election management bodies?
Although observers characterized the 2020 polls as generally free, EU observers described GECOM as dysfunctional, riven by polarization, opaque in its decision-making, and derelict in its duty to stop its officials from interfering with the results. In August 2021, GECOM dismissed Chief Elections Officer Keith Lowenfield—who had been accused of abetting the fraudulent vote tabulation in 2020—along with his deputy and the Region 4 returning officer. Former GECOM official Vishnu Persaud was chosen to succeed Lowenfield in December 2021.
|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?
Political parties may form freely and they generally operate without interference. Party politics are defined by ethnic identity; the APNU is predominately Afro-Guyanese while the PPP/C is mainly Indo-Guyanese. Ethnopolitical divisions have sharpened as the anticipated influx of oil and gas revenue raises the stakes of controlling the distribution of state resources. New parties emerged to contest the 2020 elections, with the ANUG, LJP, and TNM gaining one shared seat. There are no legal provisions allowing independent candidates to stand for the presidency.
In June 2021, APNU-AFC parliamentarian Annette Ferguson was arrested under the CCA after saying that a GDF officer was slated to take charge of a “killing squad.” Ferguson was bailed in July.
|Is there a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections?
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 and civil society was required to ensure a declaration of the PPP/C as the winner based on the results of a recount.
|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?
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?
Women and ethnic minorities have equal political rights, though ethnic divisions have long played a powerful role in politics. At least a third of each party’s candidate list must consist of women. Women won 25 of the National Assembly’s 70 seats in 2020.
Indigenous people, who make up about 10 percent of the population, hold elected posts but are politically marginalized. The LJP nominated Indigenous activist Lenox Shuman for president but Shuman was disqualified in January 2020 for holding Canadian citizenship. Shuman became first Indigenous National Assembly deputy speaker that September.
|Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government?
The president and the legislative majority are generally able to create and implement policy without improper interference. The post-2020 political stalemate has continued to affect governance, however. While President Ali took his post based on the results of the recount, he did not hold regular meetings with opposition leader Joseph Harmon, while the APNU-AFC continued to label the PPP/C administration as illegitimate. The government’s ability to fill some official posts was consequently hindered.
|Are safeguards against official corruption strong and effective?
In recent years, successive governments have made progress in introducing durable safeguards against corruption, notably by strengthening money-laundering controls and empowering a new agency to audit state-owned companies. However, graft remains widespread, and the exploitation of oil and natural gas reserves beneath the country’s coastal waters is adding urgency to the need for effective anticorruption reforms.
|Does the government operate with openness and transparency?
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, which requires member states to report on the use of natural-resource revenue. In March 2021, the government released its second report, covering fiscal year 2018.
Critics have suggested that Georgetown’s initial set of oil contracts, negotiated privately with individual companies, are unfavorable to the government. In August 2021, Vice President Bharrat Jagdeo vowed that the government would address that imbalance in future profit-sharing agreements.
In December 2021, the National Assembly voted to amend the Natural Resource Fund Act; under the updated legislation, the finance minister could face a 10-year prison term if they do not disclose the receipt of oil revenue within three months.
|Are there free and independent media?
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 openly favored the APNU-AFC during the 2020 election campaign, while several private outlets favored the PPP/C.
In April 2021, commentator Gavin Matthews was arrested for violating the CCA after calling Culture Minister Charles Ramson a murderer. Matthews was granted bail in June.
In August 2021, Guyana joined the Media Freedom Coalition, an international initiative that advocates for the safety of journalists.
|Are individuals free to practice and express their religious faith or nonbelief in public and private?
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?
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?
People are generally free to express their views without fear of retaliation or other repercussions. However, critics allege that the CCA is used to stifle dissent online.
|Is there freedom of assembly?
The authorities generally uphold the right to peaceful assembly. Guyanese authorities responded peacefully to a September 2021 protest prompted by the police killing of a businessman in Region 2. A September protest held by former forestry workers took place without incident in Georgetown.
In August 2021, police in Georgetown arrested eight demonstrators protesting against a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for teachers.
|Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations, particularly those that are engaged in human rights– and governance-related work?
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?
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 2021, the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU) alleged that oil-and-gas workers were discouraged from joining unions by their employers.
The Guyana Teachers’ Union staged a three-day walkout in September over a vaccine mandate for teachers. The government vowed to dock the pay of participants. Also in September, Albion Estate sugar harvesters went on strike over pay concerns; the GAWU and Albion Estate’s operator, the Guyana Sugar Corporation, struck a deal later that month.
|Is there an independent judiciary?
The courts are impaired by political disputes, staff shortages, and lack of resources. The president must obtain the agreement of the opposition leader to appoint the chancellor of the judiciary and the chief justice; both positions were held by acting placeholders as of December 2021 due to the ongoing failure to agree on appointments. Other judges are appointed by the president on the advice of a Judicial Service Commission (JSC), which is also selected with opposition input. The JSC has remained unstaffed since 2017.
Guyanese courts played a mixed role during the 2020 election crisis. A Court of Appeal decision bolstered the Granger government’s position that large numbers of votes should be invalidated. However, when the Caribbean Court of Justice—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?
Observance of due process safeguards is uneven. Defendants are often held in pretrial detention beyond their maximum possible sentence; 46 percent of the prison population was in pretrial detention as of September 2021. Prisons are also overcrowded, with the system’s population standing at 127.2 percent of capacity as of September. Nevertheless, the Inter-American Development Bank praised efforts to tackle these issues in August, including the use of alternative sentencing.
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?
Reports of police violence, abuse of detainees, and harsh prison conditions persist. Police in Region 2 killed businessman Orin Boston at his home in September 2021. The officer who allegedly killed Boston was arrested and the government vowed to investigate the killing.
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 2021. In January, Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro Moros issued a decree asserting the country’s rights in Guyanese waters. The crew of the Comandante Eterno Hugo Chávez arrested fishermen operating in Guyana’s EEZ that month, though the fishermen were released in February.
|Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population?
Indo-Guyanese people, who make up 40 percent of the population, predominate within the business sector. A history of interethnic violence and the organization of politics along ethnic lines make communal violence a perennial concern.
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 faces police harassment and discrimination.
|Do individuals enjoy freedom of movement, including the ability to change their place of residence, employment, or education?
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?
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.
Indigenous communities face unauthorized encroachment and resource exploitation by outsiders. In September 2021, President Ali announced the creation of a government mechanism to address land disputes.
|Do individuals enjoy personal social freedoms, including choice of marriage partner and size of family, protection from domestic violence, and control over appearance?
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?
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 Guyanese authorities’ continued efforts to address human trafficking in 2021, citing a rise in investigations, increased victim assistance, and the establishment of a Spanish-language antitrafficking hotline. However, child and male victims go largely unsupported.
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