The first of five general elections in the Caribbean Community is set to be held in Guyana next Monday, March 2, with the governing multiracial coalition pitting itself for a second five year term against an Indo-led main opposition party as both fight to control oil revenues that could make the country one of the richest in the hemisphere in less than a decade.
Voters will go to the polls in what is considered as the mother of all elections since independence from Britain in 1966. Critics say that whichever outfit wins this one will likely control the nation for decades to come as oil the country has discovered could lead to earnings of up to $5 billion in revenues by as early as 2025.
A consortium led by American mega player ExxonMobil began actual oil production in late December, less than five years after telling the world that the Guyana-Suriname Basin had contained billions of oil and gas deposits. Latest official estimates have already placed reserves at more than eight billion after discovering 16 wells so far. Just last week, Guyanese and Exxon officials made much of the fact that the country had sold its own first million barrels of oil to international markets as part of a sharing agreement with the consortium. Projected revenues from four more shipments of similar amounts are expected to be about $300 million for the year and rising as daily production and sales increase.
As Pres. David Granger and main opposition candidate Irfaan Ali of the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) step up campaigning with less than a week left, there are major concerns among international observers and the two major parties about the number of eligible elections on the voters list. In all nine parties met the criteria to contest the elections for the 65 seats in the single chamber parliament.
The national population is estimated at no more than 780,000 yet the official scroll has more than 661,000 people on it. Critics say this is a recipe for confusion as it could open the door to voter padding and rigging. The parties point to the fact that the national school population of children under 18 is about 260,000, meaning that persons as young as eight graders could theoretically be eligible to vote if you are to go by the list put out by the elections commission.
Meanwhile, a slew of international observers from the region––the Commonwealth, the Jimmy Carter Center out of Atlanta and the Organization of American States among others––will have their work cut out monitoring activity as thousands of ballots could be left unused and could be abused by overzealous officials. In the 2015 elections that pushed out the PPP after 23 consecutive years, the final voters list was 585,727 with 416,000 people actually casting votes.
And once the Guyana elections are done and dusted, attention will turn to neighboring Suriname as it votes on May 25 for a new government. The others on schedule for the remainder of the year are St. Kitts, St. Vincent, Trinidad and Belize. The Dominican Republic is also due to vote this year.