Guyana is a parliamentary democracy with a lively press and a robust civil society. However, elections held in 2020 were marred by attempted fraud. Crime, police violence and corruption, 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 stoked ethnopolitical divisions.
|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.
Long-delayed elections held in March 2020 were marred by serious attempted fraud. The High Court ordered a recount, but political and courtroom maneuvering continued for months until the government of then president David Granger ultimately accepted the results of a recount showing that Irfaan Ali of the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) had won the presidency. Ali took his post that August.
|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 nationally. 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, Granger’s coalition of A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) and the Alliance for Change (AFC) won 31, and a coalition of opposition parties was allocated 1 seat. European Union (EU) observers said the campaign was competitive and generally free, although polarization, unregulated campaign finance, and a lack of transparency characterized the preelectoral period. The EU observers said the poll’s integrity was “seriously compromised” by the manipulation of results by senior Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) officials. The eventual allocation of seats was based on a recount approved by Caribbean Community observers.
|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 2020 polls as generally free, EU observers described GECOM as dysfunctional, polarized, opaque, 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 a regional officer.
A presidential COI into the 2020 elections began proceedings in November 2022.
The same month, the National Assembly passed a bill proposed by the government in August 2022 to establish a Constitutional Reform Commission (CRC) to make recommendations about several major constitutional issues including electoral reforms.
|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. The APNU is predominantly Afro-Guyanese while the PPP/C is mainly Indo-Guyanese. Ethnopolitical divisions have sharpened amid the influx of oil and gas revenue. New parties emerged to contest the 2020 elections, gaining one shared seat. Independent candidates cannot legally 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 coalition from 2015 to 2020. The PPP/C took power through elections in 2020, but significant pressure from the international community 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?||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 under the law. At least a third of each party’s candidate list must consist of women. Women gained 25 of the National Assembly’s 65 elected and 5 ex officio seats in 2020.
Indigenous people, who make up about 10 percent of the population, are politically marginalized. In 2020, Indigenous activist and Liberty and Justice Party (LJP) founder Lenox Shuman ran for president. Later that year, Shuman became the first Indigenous deputy speaker of the National Assembly.
|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. There are signs that the post-2020 political impasse is thawing. In May 2022, President Ali met officially with opposition leader Aubrey Norton of the APNU-AFC for the first time, to discuss several long-vacant judicial and official appointments.
|Are safeguards against official corruption strong and effective?||2.002 4.004|
In recent years, successive governments have introduced 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 offshore oil and natural gas reserves is adding urgency to the need for effective anticorruption reforms.
In July, Transparency Institute Guyana Inc. (TIGI) called on the government to officially investigate allegations of corruption concerning Vice President Bharrat Jagdeo that surfaced in a report by US-based Vice News.
|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.
In May 2022, a board was appointed to the government integrity commission tasked with reviewing officials’ asset disclosures after its posts had remained vacant for over a year.
Also in May 2022, the government released its third report for the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, covering fiscal year 2019.
Critics have suggested that the government’s initial set of oil contracts, negotiated privately with individual companies, are unfavorable to Guyana. A Natural Resource Fund (NRF) bill was passed in December 2021, restructuring systems put in place in 2019 to manage oil revenue. The bill establishes an oversight committee independent from the Ministry of Finance to boost transparency. It also requires that all reports of petroleum revenues be published in the Official Gazette within three months, with failure to do so punishable by stiff fines and lengthy prison terms. Critics have nevertheless suggested that the process for appointments to the NRF board and openings for Ministry of Finance influence over the fund could dent its independence.
|Are there free and independent media?||3.003 4.004|
Although freedom of the press is generally respected, government officials have filed defamation cases against journalists. Criminal defamation charges can be punishable by 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 regulatory and licensing decisions. The state-owned Guyana Chronicle has also been accused of progovernment bias, including in December 2022 by the Guyana Public Service Union (GPSU).
|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.
The Ali administration has indicated that faith groups will have representation on the CRC.
|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, surveillance, or other repercussions. During June 2022 protests in the East Coast Demerara Region, President Ali claimed a demonstrator had been filmed threatening his life and indicated he would seek a parliamentary resolution “decrying political violence and threats of assassination.”
|Is there freedom of assembly?||4.004 4.004|
The authorities generally uphold the right to peaceful assembly. A protest against police violence in the East Coast Demerara Region in June 2022 proceeded without interference or subsequent arrests, despite some protesters allegedly attacking street vendors and looting.
|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.
In April 2022, union members protested low wages and the high cost of living, and criticized the Ali administration for failing to restore a collective bargaining agreement removed by a previous government. The GPSU criticized the government for failing to engage in collective bargaining with public sector workers.
|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 opposition leader to appoint the chancellor of the judiciary and the chief justice. Both positions were held by acting placeholders in 2022; Guyana has gone without a confirmed chancellor and chief justice for 17 and 21 years, respectively.
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. The APNU-AFC continues to challenge the legality of the elections; a petition was admitted by the Court of Appeal in October 2022.
|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 beyond their maximum possible sentence; about 27 percent of the prison population were awaiting trial as of September 2022. Prisons are also overcrowded.
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. An undercover police officer in Region 4 allegedly shot and killed Quindon Bacchus, a young man and resident of Haslington, in June 2022, sparking protests and a riot; three police officers were arrested in July in connection with the case. The rate of violent crime has fallen somewhat in recent years but remains stubbornly high.
|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 population, predominate in business. The organization of politics along ethnic lines makes 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 health care, education, and justice.
Guyana’s Prevention of Discrimination Act of 1997 does not mention sexual orientation or gender identity. Same-sex sexual activity is punishable with harsh jail terms, and the LGBT+ community faces discrimination and police harassment.
|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.
Indigenous peoples face unauthorized encroachment and resource exploitation by outsiders. In September 2021, President Ali announced that the Amerindian Act of 2006 would be revised with a view to bolstering Indigenous land rights, and the government allocated funding for the project in July 2022.
|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 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 is common. Domestic abuse is widespread, and conviction rates are low.
An 1893 law prohibiting cross-dressing was overturned in August 2021 following a 2018 Caribbean Court of Justice ruling.
|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.
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