Freedom in the World
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Political Rights (1 = best, 7 = worst)
In 2010, preparations for the 2011 presidential elections began, though uncertainty remained over who would be nominated by the country’s two main political parties. President Bharrat Jagdeo of the People’s Progressive Party retained a strong base of support amidst speculation that he might amend the constitution to run for a third term. Midyear, the government started to slowly implement a security forces reform plan announced at the beginning of 2010.
Guyana gained independence from Britain in 1966 and was ruled by the autocratic, predominantly Afro-Guyanese People’s National Congress party (PNC) for the next 26 years. In 1992, Cheddi Jagan of the largely Indo-Guyanese People’s Progressive Party (PPP) won the presidencyin Guyana’s first free and fair elections. He died in 1997, and the office passed to his wife, Janet, who resigned in 1999 for health reasons. She was succeeded by Finance Minister Bharrat Jagdeo of the PPP-C, an alliance of the PPP and the Civic Party. President Jagdeo was elected in his own right in 2001.
Guyanese politics are dominated by a tense split between descendants of indentured workers from India, known as Indo-Guyanese, who make up about half of the population and generally back the PPP-C, and Afro-Guyanese, who compose 36 percent of the population and largely support the PNC-Reform (PNC-R) party. In 2004, the political climate showed brief signs of improving when the PPP-C and PNC-R announced that they had reached agreement on a wide variety of issues. However, the emerging harmony was disrupted when a police informant revealed the existence of death squads that enjoyed official sanction and had killed some 64 people. An investigation exposed apparent links to the home affairs minister, Ronald Gajraj, but he was largely exonerated by an official inquiry in 2005.
Violence escalated in 2006 ahead of that year’s elections. In the spring, Agriculture Minister Satyadeo Sawh was brutally slain by masked gunmen, and four newspaper employees were shot dead on the outskirts of the capital in early August. The National Assembly was dissolved amid acrimony and mudslinging, and the elections were delayed by several weeks as deep conflicts within the seven-member Guyana Elections Commission undermined the credibility of the process. Despite those concerns, the elections unfolded without incident in August, due in part to the heavy presence of international observers.
President Jagdeo handily won another five-year term as his PPP-C captured 36 seats in the National Assembly. The PNC-R took 21 seats; a new party, the Alliance for Change (AFC), won 6 seats; and two minor parties, the United Force and the Justice for All Party, each captured 1 seat. The emergence of the multiracial AFC suggested that the fierce racial divide of Guyanese politics was on the wane, though relations between the government and opposition remained tense.
In 2009, President Jagdeo’s strong support fueled speculation that he may seek to amend the constitution and run for a third term in the December 2011 presidential elections. While he denied such claims, the PPP-C had not chosen a successor by year’s end, and no clear frontrunner existed.Meanwhile, opposition leader Robert Corbin of the PNC-R—who publicly charged that the Jagdeo government had links to convicted drug trafficker Robert Khan—repeatedly stated he would not seek the presidential nomination for the PNC-R. The possibility of a united coalition under the PNC-R seemed unlikely after the AFC chose to align with smaller parties and civil society groups rather than the PNC-R.
Guyana is an electoral democracy. The 1980 constitution provides for a strong president and a 65-seat National Assembly, elected every five years. Two additional, nonvoting members are appointed by the president. The leader of the party with a plurality of parliamentary seats becomes president for a five-year term and appoints the prime minister and cabinet.