August 25, 2006

Guyana vote looks set to hand president re-election

By Sharief Khan

GEORGETOWN, Guyana (Reuters) - A series of frightening
crimes will be on the minds of Guyanese voters as they go to
polls next week in an election likely to be won by the youthful
President Bharrat Jagdeo.

Soldiers will patrol Guyana's streets for the first time
during an election on Monday when voters cast ballots in the
former British colony.

Rioting has marred the last three general elections in the
small South American country after racial tensions flared
between the Indo-Guyanese majority, who mostly back the ruling
party, and Guyanese of African descent.

Polls published by local media show Jagdeo, a 42-year-old
Moscow-educated economist, is favored to be re-elected. Polls
also show his People's Progressive Party/Civic or PPP/C will
keep its majority in the 65-member national parliament.

Jagdeo has scored points with the electorate by improving
infrastructure and roadways and by lowering the country's debt

His major opponent is veteran politician Robert Corbin, 58,
whose People's National Congress Reform, or PNCR, draws support
mainly from Guyanese who trace their roots back to Africa.

The polls show the new Alliance For Change or AFC led by
two lawyers who were in the leadership of the PPP/C and the
PNCR could put up a good show and become the balance of power
in parliament between the two traditional parties.

British High Commissioner Fraser Wheeler, a top British
diplomat, said recently the country appeared calm without the
racial and political tension that has marked politics in
Guyana, a sparsely populated country between Venezuela and

"I am delighted to hear the dialogue in these elections
which focuses more on issues that matter to ordinary people
such as crime, jobs and services and not the disturbing, or
what I would call 'old nonsense' about race," Wheeler said.

Elections in 1992, 1997 and 2001, which the governing party
won, ended in rioting in the capital. Several people were
killed and stores and other buildings burned and looted.


Teams from the Commonwealth nations, the Carter Center and
the European Union will monitor Monday's ballot, which comes as
Guyanese fret over a recent climb in violent crime.

Five workers were killed execution-style at a newspaper
printing plant and, in another attack, a government minister
was shot and killed at home.

Gangs also robbed two banks in a daring hold-up in eastern
Guyana but the army and police killed the eight bank robbers.

High crime rates and plans for investment in the economy
and the infrastructure featured heavily in electoral
advertising, but the campaign was generally calm with none of
the tit-for-tat attacks of previous votes.

Guyana, which gained its independence from London in 1966,
was populated by descendants of African slaves and indentured
workers brought from India to work on plantations.

South America's only English-speaking country, Guyana is
rich in bauxite, gold and timber, but the country has struggled
to battle poverty. Large numbers of young Guyanese have
emigrated to the United States, Canada or Europe to seek jobs.