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Guyana’s electorate racially polarised

Published: 
Sunday, April 12, 2015

An ongoing Nacta tracking polling exercise has found that Guyanese voters are as racially polarised for the May 11 general election as in earlier elections. 

Very few voters show they are breaking from the old habit of traditional voting patterns that began in 1955 following the racial split of the country. 

The election puts the ruling PPP against the combined opposition APNU-AFC alliance. The PNC has been renamed APNU.

According to the poll’s findings, almost every African is voting for the opposition alliance and most Indians are voting for the PPP. 

Some of the Indians are voting for the opposition alliance complaining that the PPP has neglected them in favour of PNC supporters. 

But the bulk of the Indians are voting for the PPP to prevent the return of the PNC to office. In terms of racialised voting, the PNC is getting a much larger portion of Africans than the PPP is getting from among Indians.

According to the poll’s findings, AFC supporters are opposed to their party’s partnership with the APNU (that most voters equate with the PNC). 

But they do not want to break with their support for AFC, saying they want to punish the PPP for neglecting them and for the perceived arrogance of some government officials. The findings of the poll are obtained from interviews with 1,300 voters (42 per cent Indians, 31 per cent Africans, 17 per cent Mixed, nine per cent Amerindians, and one per cent other races) from mid-February through now. 

The findings reveal traditional supporters of the PNC want a change in the government, saying they no longer want to be ruled by the PPP. 

They say they want to be governed by their own party and their own leader. 

Analogously, traditional supporters of the PPP are fearful of a return of Burnhamism should the PNC win—the discredited past practices (banning of potatoes, split peas, channa, mandatory national service, racism, racial victimisation, political persecution, dictatorship, kick-down-door banditry, and the like) that were associated with the PNC when it governed Guyana between 1965 and 1992. 

Nevertheless, the poll’s findings show that PNC-led alliance has a very good chance of capturing the government because of the division in support among the PPP base and strong racial unity in the opposition camp. 

The opposition PNC has an excellent ground organisation of volunteers of former military and police officers convincing voters to support the alliance.

The supporters of both sides square off in what is likely to be a close outcome. Pro-PPP supporters describe their choice in this election as being between what they describe as a party (PNC-led alliance) that would take them backwards—ban basic goods and practice racial discrimination—against a party (PPP) that would look to build on the economic and social progress of the last two decades. 

They add, it is a choice between a party that is national in scope and policies and that is reflective of the varied races (promoting racial and religious harmony and tolerance) versus one that took the country to the brink of an abyss of racial divisiveness and underdevelopment during its 28 years rule. 

Pro-opposition (PNU+AFC) supporters, on the other hand, while grudgingly giving credit to the PPP for the progress of the last two decades, say they have had enough of the PPP and want change. They make no bones of their desire about having someone of their own ethnic background to govern them. 

The outcome is hard to predict with both parties almost equally divided in support and some 12 per cent of the electorate undecided.

n Dr Bisram is a pollster and political analyst who has been conducting polls in Guyana since 1990.

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