August 28, 2006

Guyanese president favorite as country goes to polls

By Patrick Markey

GEORGETOWN, Guyana (Reuters) - Guyanese President Bharrat
Jagdeo on Monday was expected to win a second term in the
former British colony as voters went to the polls under tough
security to prevent clashes that marred previous elections.

Polls show Jagdeo, a 42-year-old Moscow-educated economist
who has promised to tackle rising crime and deliver improved
services, is favored to secure a second 5-year term and will
likely keep his party's parliamentary majority.

Tensions between the ethnic Indian majority and descendants
of Africans have erupted into violence after past ballots. But
officials reported no incidents during Monday's vote and the
capital of the small South American nation was quiet after the
government called a national holiday.

Soldiers in trucks patrolled the streets in the capital,
where colonial-style buildings reflect the legacy of Guyana's
Dutch and British past. Many stores on the main Regent Street
district were boarded up against potential looters.

Police blocked off access to the GECOM electoral authority
building, the site of previous attacks during voting.

Several people were killed and stores were looted in
rioting that marred elections in 1992, 1997 and 2001.

"So far everything seems to be going peacefully," Jagdeo
told reporters after voting in a suburban schoolhouse. "From
what I have heard things seem to going smoothly around the
country after some initial glitches."

The ethnic Indian majority mostly backs Jagdeo's ruling
People's Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C). His major opponent is
veteran politician Robert Corbin, 58, whose People's National
Congress Reform (PNCR) claims support mainly from Guyanese who
trace their roots back to Africa.

Supporters credit Jagdeo with building schools, water
pipelines and roadways and trimming the country's debt.

Lines of voters formed outside ramshackle schools and
public offices in Georgetown despite early downpours of
tropical rain and later beating sunshine.

"They've built roads, you can get electricity, you can get
water now. It's working OK," said Desiree Decastro, a domestic
worker casting her vote for PPP/C.

International teams from the Organization of American
States, the Carter Center and the European Union were
monitoring voting across Guyana, a country of around 750,000
people wedged between Venezuela and Suriname.

Election authorities said initial results would be released
a few hours after polls close at 6 p.m. EDT (2200 GMT) and
final official tallies could be released by Wednesday.

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

South America's only English-speaking country, Guyana is
rich in bauxite, gold and timber and sugar cane remains a key
export. But it still struggles with poverty and lack of

Crime became an election issue after several high-profile
killings this year. Five workers were shot execution-style at a
newspaper printing plant and, in another attack, a government
minister was shot and killed at home.