Guyana Goes to the Polls

| Nov. 28, 2011 | Anna Regina, Guyana

Published by GlobalPost

While Egyptians went to the polls Monday in the global spotlight, and Congolese cast their ballots amid scattered violence, people in the tiny Latin American nation of Guyana are voting to a chorus of reggae and unlikely one-liners from its laid-back leaders.

Politics in Guyana has remained untarred by the spin doctors and PR staff that stage-manage every minute of the public lives of Western leaders.

Voters will choose between frontrunner Donald Ramotar, who has the support of the outgoing President, Bharrat Jagdeo; and rival opposition candidate David Granger.

In the runup to the election, rallies exuded a political naivety, with officials on stage in the western town of Anna Regina shouting lines that would not sound out of place in a Caribbean version of Borat — all this among a backdrop of reggae with lyrics altered to fit in the awkward title of the People's Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C).

"Five thousand acres of non-traditional crop farming developed this year, say yeah!" shouts party stalwart Ali Baksh to cheers from a dutifully ebullient crowd along with giggles from the tiny press corps, sweltering in the heat.

"We are from Guyana — land of bauxite, rice and sugar," exclaims one song, after live renditions of Bob Marley's Three Little Birds and One Love. Indeed, bauxite, rice, sugar and now gold — with world prices hitting record highs — are the country's primary industries and growth is expected at just under 5% next year.

A gold rush is taking over towns in Guyana's deep interior and with it comes damage to the country's 85 percent Amazon rainforest cover, as well as an increase in violence in the inaccessible and lawless jungle towns.

Yet, that has done little to change the political climate, perhaps demonstrating its distance from the realities of Guyanese life.

Despite the distance, ministers are remarkably close to their voters. If enough time is spent in a bar or restaurant in the country's coastal capital Georgetown, there is little doubt that high-level ministers, including Jagdeo himself, will pay a visit. "I can walk down the street and into this restaurant with no bodyguards," Jagdeo said on one such chance meeting in a popular curry house. "This is Guyana."

The anomalous English-speaking nation sandwiched between Brazil, Suriname and Venezuela has a population of just 750,000, many of whom live on its Caribbean coast, facing away from the behemoth continent behind them.

The former British colony is a melting pot of descendants from India and Africa brought in as slaves and labourers. They generally split their vote along those ethnic lines.

The ruling PPP/C party attracts Indian-descended voters while the opposition Partnership for National Unity (APNU) attracts those descended from Africans. This seems unlikely to change.

Results are expected overnight.