By Reinhard Jacobsen
Former secretary general of the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) Group, Dr. Patrick I. Gomes whose five-year tenure concluded end of February, has called on “all political leaders to let the rule of law prevail and the country remain calm”.
He told the Caribbean Media Corporation (CMC): “Guyana has always been held in high regard for good governance and respected by the 79-member countries of the ACP family of nations, so it is expected that this will continue in the interest of the good of all, Guyana and the Caribbean.”
Dr. Gomes’ appeal came as Guyana, a small and historically poor South American country, plunged into a political crisis threatening to unleash the worst wave of ethnic violence in more than a decade. The unrest followed a day after the electoral authorities announced the government had won the most votes in the March 2 elections. The Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) made the announcement overriding objections from judges, international observers and the opposition.
International observer teams March 5 night called on GECOM to ensure transparency in the counting of the ballots in Region Four of Guyana, Demerara-Mahaica, the only outstanding area of the 10 Regions where there is conflict regarding the results. It extends East of the Demerara River to the Western bank of the Mahaica River, and is predominantly low coastal plain, with a small portion of the hilly sand and clay region further inland.
“We strongly urge the Guyana Elections Commission and all parties involved to ensure the process properly follows the legal steps dictated by the laws of Guyana and is in line with the country’s international commitments,” said former Barbados Prime Minister Owen Arthur, who heads the Organisation of American States (OAS) Observer Mission.
But Jason Carter, one of the co-leaders of the Carter Centre Observer Mission, told reporters outside the GECOM headquarters that while the Carter Centre had over the past few days commended GECOM for the manner in which it conducted the elections “yesterday (March 4) and into today (March 5) the transparent verification of the results from District (Region) was stopped”.
The Jamaica Observer reported: “The fact that there was no transparency about the results that were ultimately announced today means that those results lack credibility. We don’t know and no one else can verify that the results that were announced are the correct results or not. We do not know.”
Carter insisted that “there was no transparency in the process for announcing those results”.
Both the ruling coalition, A Partnership for National Unity plus the Alliance for Change (APNU+AFC), supported by the Afro-Guyanese community, and the main opposition People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C), backed by the Indo-Guyanese population, are claiming victory in the elections for control of the 65-member National Assembly.
The largest ethnic group according to the 2002 census was the Indo-Guyanese, comprising 43.5 percent of the population, the Afro-Guyanese comprised 30.2 percent. The population is concentrated along the coastland, particularly in Georgetown, the capital city, which has a population of 56,095. The population of Region Four is 297,162.
Guyana’s administrative and commercial activities are concentrated in this Region, especially in and around Georgetown, the main port.
There are many sugar estates, such as Diamond, Enmore and La Bonne Intention, owned and controlled by the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GUYSUCO). Some residents of this region work on coconut estates, and many people have their own kitchen gardens. Cattle are reared in small amounts for beef and dairy purposes.
However, as the New York Times reports, the start of oil production in December is expected to nearly double the country’s gross domestic product in 2020, according to the International Monetary Fund, and multiply in years to come.
Instead, the winner-takes-all attitude that has marred the elections is weighing heavily on Guyana’s economic prospects as it enters the oil age, said Ralph Ramkarran, a prominent local statesman who led a largely Quixotic campaign for a small multiethnic party.
“The thinking here is, ‘why share when you’re winning?'” he said. “Until that’s fixed, it will remain a place of suspicion and economic underdevelopment.”