The Fun That Was Peace Corps Guyana - Mark's Blog

Postings from just north of the equator. Let's see if training in CPR and First Aid prepares me to teach Health Education in a small, remote village in Guyana. I'm thinking... no. Read all about this ill advised decision! In addition, here is the required Peace Corps disclaimer: "The contents of this website are mine personally and do not reflect any position of the US government or the Peace Corps." So, please, don't confuse me with the White House Press Secretary.

Saturday, August 26, 2006


Well, it's election season here in Guyana. Elections are slated for this Monday, August 28th. I'm excited, not just because I was a political science major and therefore incredibly nerdy for these types of things. But also because it's an exciting time in Guyana. Since the inception of free elections in 1992, voting has been quickly followed by varying degrees of violence, mostly in Georgetown. In the last elections in 2001, rioting in Georgetown lasted weeks. And it took 3 months to declare a winner. So obviously, Peace Corps is a little apprehensive about this time. I probably can't explain in full detail the precautions that Peace Corps is taking, but they have moved some volunteers around temporarily and scared us all about the prospect of consolidating in a special place and then catching planes home to America. I have visions of the Vietnam era photos of the Americans getting helicoptered out off the roof of the US embassy. Forgive me because I can't remember where that was - Saigon? Anyways, that'll be me, jus' now.

But these elections look interesting. But before I write some neutral, factual observations about the parties, let me just reiterate that these are my opinions, not Peace Corps' or the US government's. So if you have a problem, tell me and not Peace Corps. This is not official policy analysis from the Bush Administration.

So, the two main parties that have been around for a long time and that dominate the electoral landscape are the PPP/C and the PNC-R. The PPP/C has been in power since 1992. Before that, the PNC-R was in power for something like 30 years of so. Guyanese politics are pretty much split along racial lines here. The PPP/C enjoys the support of the Indo-Guyanese population (which is the majority ethnic group), while the PNC-R is supported by the Afro-Guyanese party. Of course, these are generalizations, as you would find supporters from all ethnic groups in each party, but largely these are their bases. This puts the PPP/C at a distinct advantage because the Indo-Guyanese population makes up close to, if not more than, half the population of Guyana. However, there have been questions about this because the last census was done in 2001. And a thought in Guyana is that Indo-Guyanese have been leaving Guyana in the past five years in larger numbers than Afro-Guyanese. So the population majority that the PPP/C enjoys might be more of an illusion. Nonetheless, they are the incumbent party, have more money, control the state-run television station, radio station, and newspaper. Not a bad position to be in for re-election, right?

The interesting thing about this election is the newly formed AFC party. Born out of disaffected PPP/C and PNC-R members, the AFC is a reform party trying to move out from racial politics. Since this is the first time there is a viable third party, there are many people who see this is a crucial election. I have talked to many people that are not happy with their own party and would never vote for the other major party. However, this turning into votes for the AFC is pretty big question. This is still a country run by the two main parties, both of which reward loyalty.

Anyways, it's very interesting. If people vote largely by race, the PPP/C should win a plurality, if not an outright majority. But the rise of the AFC muddles the equation. There is a distinct possibility that the AFC could take the lowest percentage of the three, but get much of the power as it acts like a broker and enters a coalition government with one or the other party. Unfortunately, we'll have to wait at least a few weeks, if not months, for the official results to come back. And in the meantime, I'm sure everyone will claim victory.

So I'm excited by it all. But it will also be nice when it is over. Peace Corps has been putting restrictions on us and generally making life stressful. I know they don't enjoy doing it, but they have to ensure our safety. Fair enough. But I think we'll all be glad when it's over.