Guyanese government collapses after no-confidence vote

Written by Putt Punyagupta

Guyana, a Caribbean English-speaking nation of 750,000, faces inevitable political change as of December 21, following a dramatic parliamentary scene.

A no-confidence vote in the National Assembly shifted the scheduled general election campaign to March 2019,  almost two years before the constitutional term of incumbent President David A. Granger ends, causing a collapse in the fragile multiracial coalition government composed of the left-wing, predominantly Afro-Guyanese-backed alliance A Partnership National Unity (APNU), and the Alliance For Change (AFC).

President Granger, whose achievements include continued improvement of the education sector and upgrading irrigation systems, faced challenges controlling a wayward cabinet, all while his rapidly deteriorating health remained in the public eye. The vote of no-confidence was passed after Chandarass Persaud, a member of the AFC — the junior of party of the coalition — switched allegiance, lamenting that over the past four years, members of his party have acted as mere “yes men” of the more influential APNU. Though repeatedly urged to change his vote, he refused, putting into certain jeopardy the cohesion of the ruling coalition.

This unforeseen dissolution in government occurred a mere four years after the aforementioned coalition came into power during 2015 elections, in which it promised a more inclusive politics less based upon ethnic and racial grounds. However, President Granger evidently failed to effectively reconcile with the opposing People’s Progressive Party, (PPP), predominantly supported by the Indo-Guyanese, as Afro-Guyanese members of his coalition continued to deride the opposition. The failure of the current government increases the likelihood of the PPP winning the next election, following its strong performance in local elections.  

Ashley V. Anthony ‘22, a Guyanese undergraduate at Yale University and daughter of potential PPP presidential candidate Dr. Frank C.S. Anthony, remarked that she is in particular worried about the resurgence of racial issues, and how tensions will increase in the coming ninety days.

“People falsely believed that racial voting had died down with the rise of the APNU-AFC coalition, because the coalition was comprised of both Africans and Indians,” she said. “But the reality of the situation is that the Afro-Guyanese were voting for the APNU and the Indo-Guyanese for the AFC; racial divides still existed in what was believed to be a multiracial coalition.”

She further noted the importance of political parties appealing to youth with policy-based approaches rather than racially-based maneuvering.

The government that assumes control following the March 2019 elections has an additional, newfound responsibility of preparing the country’s environmental and industrial infrastructure for the production of oil, which is slated to begin in 2020, following the recent discovery of oil and natural gas off the country’s Atlantic coast. The country’s history of corruption also makes the handling of potential oil revenues an issue of concern.

The next three months will not only be a strength test for the democratic institutions of Guyana, but also the country’s social and ethnic fabric.