August 31, 2006

Guyana’s president sweeps to re-election

By Sharief Khan

GEORGETOWN, Guyana (Reuters) - Guyana's President Bharrat
Jagdeo, a free-market advocate, has won re-election after
sweeping to victory in peaceful elections on Monday in the
former British colony, authorities said on Thursday.

Jagdeo, a 42-year-old ethnic Indian, won 64.6 percent of
Monday's vote while his People's Progressive Party/Civic party
won 36 seats in the 65-member parliament, Guyana Chief Election
Officer Gocool Boodoo said announcing the results.

Guyana, an impoverished nation wedged between Venezuela and
Suriname, seemed to escape the violence of past votes. Tensions
between the Indian majority and Afro-Guyanese boiled over into
rioting after elections in 1992, 1997 and 2001.

"This is an endorsement of our track record," Jagdeo said
looking relaxed as supporters cheered at his campaign
headquarters. "Now the election is over, we need to put aside
the campaign rhetoric."

Jagdeo, educated as an economist in Russia, won support for
building more roads, water pipelines and schools. But Guyana,
with just 750,000 people living in an area the size of Britain,
still struggles with poverty, crime and scarce investment.

Monday's election went ahead without any major incidents
after the government sent troops out onto the streets of the
capital for the first time during a ballot.

Georgetown, where wooden buildings hint at a British and
Dutch colonial past, was calm after slowly returning to life in
the three days of vote tallying. Shopkeepers had initially
boarded up their stores to ward off looters.

"The peaceful elections will help us with the cricket world
cup next year," Jagdeo said.

The government had feared possible election violence might
keep away thousands of visitors expected to flock to Guyana for
cricket matches during the tournament taking place across the
Caribbean. India has donated a new cricket stadium to Guyana.

Robert Corbin, a key opponent who charges Jagdeo with
ignoring Afro-Guyanese issues and turning a blind eye to
corruption, had denounced irregularities and accused the PPP/C
of fraud at some polling stations.

Corbin secured 34 percent of the vote and his People's
National Congress Reform party won 22 parliamentary seats.
Newcomers Alliance for Change won five seats in the chamber
with the last two seats going to smaller parties.

Observers from the European Union and the Organization of
American States noted some difficulties in the voting, but
generally applauded the election as a success after past
violence in South America's only English-speaking country.

Jagdeo, known for his hands-on approach, has promised
better government services and to crack down on crime after a
string of recent brutal murders shocked Guyanese.

Earlier this year a government minister was gunned down in
his home. U.S. officials also worry drug traffickers and money
laundering are increasingly a negative influence in Guyana.

Rich in bauxite, gold and timber, Guyana gained its
independence from Britain in 1966. Most residents are either
descendants of African slaves or of indentured workers brought
from India and China to work on sugar plantations.