Ethnic Indian wins Guyana presidential election

GEORGETOWN Fri Dec 2, 2011 7:38am IST

Donald Ramotar, Presidential Candidate of incumbent People's Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C), and his wife Deomattie line up at a polling station in Georgetown November 28, 2011. REUTERS/Neil Marks

Donald Ramotar, Presidential Candidate of incumbent People's Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C), and his wife Deomattie line up at a polling station in Georgetown November 28, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Neil Marks

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GEORGETOWN (Reuters) - Guyana's ruling party won a fifth straight presidential election after a vote in the South American nation that the opposition alleged was rigged, the electoral commission said on Thursday.

The former British colony is politically divided between the descendants of African slaves, who tend to support the opposition, and more numerous ethnic Indians who have generally backed the ruling party.

The opposition had declared a crisis and said Monday's vote was "manipulated" in favor of the ruling People's Progressive Party/Civic, or PPP/C, led by Donald Ramotar, stoking fears of more ethnic unrest that blighted previous ballots.

"The people have spoken. The PPP/C has secured the Presidency of Guyana ... Our nation is once again on the road to progress," the PPP/C said in a statement.

Officials said the ruling party took 49 percent of the ballots cast. The opposition coalition led by David Granger, A Partnership for National Unity, or APNU, received 41 percent.

The ruling party, however, narrowly lost its parliamentary majority for the first time in 19 years. The PPP/C chastised its supporters for not coming out to vote in greater numbers.

It said it "might almost have been the last free and fair election you would have experienced had the worst outcome been realized" and that low turnout "almost cost you your country" - statements unlikely to ease tensions.

The two main opposition parties now hold one seat more than the PPP/C, which will make governing more difficult for Ramotar than during the two terms of his predecessor, Bharrat Jagdeo.

"It's clear here that parts of our population have rejected the policies of the government," said Nigel Hughes of the Alliance For Change, a third party that had urged Guyanese to end a decades-old tradition of voting along racial lines.

International observers visiting the country of 750,000 people broadly gave the election a clean bill of health.

An APNU press official did not immediately respond to requests for comment. As of Thursday evening, the party had not posted any reaction on its Facebook page, where it previously posted statements about the election.

Guyana, on the Atlantic shore between Venezuela, Suriname and Brazil, is South America's fourth-largest bauxite miner and a producer of gold, sugar and timber.

PROTEST OUTSIDE PARLIAMENT

A group of several hundred mostly Afro-Guyanese demonstrators gathered outside the parliament building on Thursday, shouting, "We want Granger!" and "APNU!"

They pushed toward the parliament gate, but security officials convinced them to back off, at which point they began marching around the block. There was no immediate sign of the trouble some feared when the opposition alleged vote-rigging.

The demonstrators later marched to the Square of the Revolution, which honors an African slave called Cuffy whose 1763 rebellion against Dutch rule made him a national hero.

"From my point of view, it would be a shame and a slap in the face for us to accept Donald Ramotar as president," said protester Earlwayne Roach, 41, a self-employed vendor.

Granger appeared at the square and told supporters not to be unruly, but made few other comments. He said the APNU was reviewing the situation, and he asked the crowd to return at 10 a.m. (1400 GMT) on Friday.

Guyana's main ethnic groups normally coexist peacefully. But black Guyanese often complain they are locked out of jobs and denied opportunities by predominantly Indian descendants.

Racial tensions have triggered riots and looting in the past, especially during elections. A decade ago, several people were killed during post-vote violence.

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Comments (4)
gailt wrote:
The journalist who is covering the Guyana elections does not appear to understand the ethnic diversity of Guyana in which not one ethnic group makes up 50% of the population.The PPP/C is not an indian party and has won support from across the country including those of indian ( 43% of the population ) and african descent ( 38% ) The composition of its leadership and membership contradict the author’s opinion. These elections are for the Presidency/government, legislature and regional elections. If one were to examine the seats the PPP/C won for the geographic MPs, 3 of those came from interior regions where the majority population is Amerindian ( indigenous 9% of the population); it also won control of 2 of those regions at the Regional Democratic Councils(RDCs). The mixed population that make up 16 % of the population also showed their support in coastal regions. The PPP/C won control of 6 of the 10 RDCs and is the second runner up in 3. These include regions where the majority of the voters are of majority african or indian descent. The PPP/C won the plurality of the votes and by the Guyanese constitution has the Presidency and forms the government,the legsilature will have for the first time a minority government and a majority combined opposition. This is new to Guyana but this has happened in many developed countries and advanced democracies such as Canada and other Commonwealth and Europenan countries. I am not aware that ethnicity has contributed to those elections.The difference in Guyana is that the main Opposition party, the second runner up has at every election created mayhem and incited their supporters on race as they are doing now.This article contributes to their action. I wish to emphasise that the Commonwealth, OAS and CARICOM observer missions have found the elections free and fair. There were also 2000 local observers scrutinizing the elections including polling agents etc of each political party. The PPP/C was able to cover almost all the 2077 polling stations across the country. If it was an ethnically based party this would not have been possible.

Dec 02, 2011 10:19pm IST  --  Report as abuse
gailt wrote:
Donald Ramotar is not an ethnic indian, his parents are Amerindian (indigneous) and indian.

Dec 02, 2011 11:03pm IST  --  Report as abuse
JRagh wrote:
Actually Gailt, while i agree with most of your observations, I’ like to add a small but significant correction.
While the new President’s Father is of Indian descent, his mother is of African and Amerindian (Native South American Indian) descent.
This makes it the first time that a traditionally ehnic party has elected a mixed race president. A significant first for Guyana.

Dec 02, 2011 2:07am IST  --  Report as abuse
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