David Granger, a retired army general was sworn-in Saturday as Guyana’s eight executive president after the multi-party, multi-racial opposition coalition he led ended a two-decades grip on power by one of the longest serving democratic governments in the hemisphere.
Granger took the oath of office in parliament, declaring himself “President for all the people.” Afterward, he told his fellow Guyanese that they had good reason to rejoice; Guyana’s democracy has been fortified, he said.
“We won the majority of the support of the people,” he said.
Granger’s swearing-in came shortly after Guyana Elections Commission Chairman Dr. Steve Surujbally declared that his upstart five-party opposition coalition — consisting of the predominately Afro-Guyanese A Partnership for National Unity and the multiracial Alliance For Change (APNU/AFC) — had won Monday’s general elections against the People’s Progressive Party Civic.
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In power for 23 years, the PPP/C, led by former President Donald Ramotar, was vying for a sixth consecutive term but met defeat with one of the highest voter turnouts in the country’s history. Ramotar was a no show Saturday, maintaining that the elections were fraudulent and the party is due a recount.
The final elections results show the APNU/AFC winning with 207,200 votes to the PPP/C’s 202,694. Granger and the APNU/AFC will have just a one seat majority, 33 to 32, in the new parliament.
But the slim majority and the potential challenges it poses for the country, didn’t seem to matter Saturday as celebratory crowds began gathering outside parliament long before the final results were declared and the arrival of Granger and his wife, Sandra.
Late Friday night, the PPP/C issued a release saying that Ramotar had not conceded and “maintains his position that the 2015 General and Regional elections was fraudulent.”
Earlier in the day, Ramotar had led a delegation to the elections commission headquarters demanding a recount of certain ballot boxes, declaring that the PPP/C had “identified serious differences” in their voting data compared to that of the commission’s.
Despite the party’s official position, some government ministers began turning in office keys and other State property Friday amid the insistence by the United States and international observer missions that the vote was “free and fair.”
“The international observers went to verify if there were any basis to the concerns. What we found repeatedly from all sides was a clean, free, fair process. We saw nothing that was going to materially impact the outcome of the votes,” said Bryan Hunt, Charge d’Affaires at the U.S. Embassy in Georgetown.
The U.S. was among the first Saturday to congratulate Granger and the new government.
“It is our hope that President Granger will work to repair the divisions in Guyanese society that have erupted during the election period and will work to promote inclusive government and national interests in the best interests of all the people of Guyana,” the U.S. Embassy said in a statement.
It’s unclear if the PPP/C will file a legal challenge in the courts.
Granger and the APNU/AFC coalition has called the PPP/C’s allegations a stalled tactic to delay the transfer of power. Closely watched, these elections have been considered the most important in the remote English-speaking South American country since Guyana made the transition from socialism to democracy in 1992.
Although the issues in the race were corruption, nepotism, drugs and the awarding of government contracts to non-locals, Guyana’s racially divisive politics also took center stage with Granger promising to unite the country of nearly 800,000.
Delivering on that promise, said Dr Mark Kirton, a political expert, is one of the major tasks facing the new government.
“If you look at the results of the elections, there was some crossover but not significant enough to say we have crossed that threshold,” said Kirton, a professor at the Institute of International Relations at the University of The West Indies in Trinidad.. “This correlation between race and political preference still concerns me.
“Programs must be put in place to ensure there is not anymore of this ethnic tribalism,” added Kirton, who is Guyanese. “There is still lots of work to be done to ensure national unity has been achieved.”
One of the poorest countries in South America, Guyana suffers from a high crime rate and unemployment, especially among its youth. The country is a transhipment point for narcotics from South America, and is especially vulnerable to human trafficking. Insecurity and government corruption are also major concerns.
“This was a vote for change,” said Kirton, noting the large turnout among the country’s youth. “There have been frustrations at all levels; everyone suffered from incumbent fatigue.
“The government wasn’t able to come up with anything new after awhile,” he said, “and the people were getting tired of the same old same old. Everyday you look in the newspaper and there is a new element of corruption.”
In his acceptance speech, Granger highlighted issues facing the country, saying he and his government are determined more than ever to fashion a new society. His inauguration is scheduled for May 26, the 50th anniversary of Guyana’s independence from Britain.