Guyana’s parliament building. Photo credit: Wikimedia/Kevin Gabbert (public domain)
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Guyana is on the cusp of potentially seismic economic changes due to the discovery of oil. The country could soon go from South America’s second-poorest to a petrostate as rich as Qatar. Both of Guyana’s major parties naturally want to be in power when the oil money starts coming in. Guyana is in a state of political turmoil.
In December 2018, the government of David Granger’s APNU-NPC coalition lost an unprecedented no-confidence motion when a member of the governing coalition cast the deciding vote. Snap elections were supposed to happen within three months but litigation delayed the process. After months of back-and-forth, Granger announced that the election would take place on March 2, 2020.
Although the APNU-APC coalition was multi-ethnic, Guyana’s political fault lines tend to be based on ethnicity, with two major parties. The main opposition People’s Progressive Party (PPP), mostly an Indian-Guyanese party that espouses communism as its ideology, was in power from 1992-2015. Conversely, Granger’s People’s National Congress (PNC) – ideologically socialist – is mostly supported by Afro-Guyanese. In at vein, the upcoming elections risk returning the country to polarization based on ethnicity. However, the country’s proportional respresentation electoral system facilitates the rise of smaller parties, and if a few new centrist parties win seats, it could change the calculations of the two major parties and lead to a broader governing coalition.
Voters will elect all 65 members of the National Assembly, Guyana’s unicameral parliament, and the presidential candidate of the party that receives the most votes then becomes president. Granger is running for re-election with Khemraj Ramjattan from the APC as his running mate. The PPP’s candidate is 39-year-old Irfaan Ali, but the face of the campaign is former president Bharrat Jagdeo.
Venezuela holds an irredentist claim on parts of Guyana’s oil and Guyana’s Essequibo region, which amounts to a third of the country’s territory. Venezuela has violated Guyana’s sovereignty to threaten oil exploration vessels.
China has a long-standing presence in Guyana since 1972, when China built a brick factory. The Chinese state-owned company CNOOC owns a 25 percent stake in the oil from Guyana’s Starbroek block, and China has also has mining and logging concessions. Still, the United States and Canada remain Guyana’s largest trading partners.
Holly K. Sonneland, AS/COA (February 27, 2020): On the Verge of Historic Economic Expansion, Guyana Heads to the Polls
The Economist (February 27, 2020): Ahead of oil riches, Guyana holds a decisive election: The country’s rancorous politics could make it hard to use the bonanza well
Holly Eva Ryan, London School of Economics (February 27, 2020): Guyana elections 2020: a crude awakening?
Evan Ellis, CSIS (January 8, 2019): Guyana at Risk: Ethnic Politics, Oil, Venezuelan Opportunism and Why It Should Matter to Washington
Updated March 1, 2020
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