On Monday, the third of six elections that are scheduled to be held in the Caribbean trade group and its associate members this year will take place in Guyana with a multiracial coalition appearing to be on course to deny the governing People’s Progressive Party (PPP) a sixth consecutive five-year term.
Retired army Brig. Gen. David Granger, 69, is leading a spirited multiracial coalition that is fighting to unseat the PPP of President Donald Ramotar but the party, sensing that the coalition is gaining momentum and is energized, is giving the campaign its all, even resorting to open race baiting to scare its tradition Indo Guyanese supporters to rally around them or face “dark days,” violence, armed home invasions and government gangs terrorizing Indians.
The chief culprit of such a message in this regard has been former President Bharrat Jagdeo whose 12-year tenure between 1999-2011 was characterized by the rise, power and growing influence of the cocaine trade, accompanying armed private death squads, credible domestic and international allegations of widespread corruption, nepotism and racial discrimination against Guyanese of African origin among a string of other ills including open favoritism of Asian investors.
So far this year there voters have kicked out governments in St. Kitts and Anguilla. Voters in Suriname are due to cast ballots on May 25 while an announcement about a date in Trinidad is expected anytime soon. Polls show the opposition just a neck ahead of the governing coalition there, while nothing is expected to change in Suriname and St. Vincent later in the year.
The PPP has been traditionally supported by Guyanese of Indian descent.
Jagdeo, whose links to players in the underworld is known to have attracted more than passing interest from federal agencies in the US, is well aware of possible dire consequences of a defeat by the PPP as he and others in his close political and business circle could well end up before local and even international courts for alleged wrongdoing.
Additionally, Leaders of the A Partnership For National Unity-Alliance For Change Team Unity Coalition have promised to investigate, review and cancel a string of questionable business deals and state contracts handed out contemptuously to friends and relatives of Jagdeo and other big wigs during his tenure and in the succeeding years under his close political buddy and surrogate Ramotar.
These include more than a dozen radio station licenses handed out two years ago to persons and groups who were or are known PPP supporters, as the licensing board ignored applications from others, some dating back decades.
And just recently, it came out in public that authorities quietly handed a firm with close links to the president’s eldest son a multi-million dollar contract to fix and run a fiber optic cable 350 miles from the border with Brazil to the city even though his first attempt at doing so ended in disaster with government being forced to abandon it because of embarrassing engineering mistakes.
More than 570,000 people are eligible to vote in what is widely being considered as the mother of all elections since locals voted en bloc for the first time in 1953 given the feeling of relative impunity which has enveloped in the PPP after 23 years in power.
A string of international observers led by former U.S. President Jimmy Carter will monitor the voting. Dozens of them have already arrived in the country to observe the situation before actual voting begins.
The country which houses the headquarters of the 15-nation Caribbean Community (CARICOM) is going to the polls more than 18 months ahead of schedule because the same opposition coalition had forced Ramotar to suspend and later dissolve the 65-seat parliament to avoid a no-confidence vote that it almost certainly would have lost. The other side had a one-seat majority.
And if there were any doubts about the PPP openly playing the race card, a mid week statement from the Carter Center expressing concern about race baiting said it all, pointing out that the Center is worried about “provocative rhetoric in the campaign and condemns any attempt to sow fear and distrust among Guyana’s ethnic groups or to undermine confidence in its electoral process and institutions. These elections are an important opportunity for Guyanese to strengthen their commitment to one another and further consolidate their democracy the strongest efforts to promote a peaceful and transparent electoral process,” it said as the major players prepare for the final big rallies this weekend.