On Monday 28 August, an estimated 300,000 Guyanese turned out to vote in elections for the unicameral National Assembly. Elections in Guyana have historically been fraught with public anxiety and violence. The two leading parties, the People's Progressive Party (PPP/Civic) and the People's National Congress (PNC/Reform) have traditionally drawn their strength from Guyana's two main ethnic groups — respectively, Indian and African — and most Guyanese vote along ethnic lines. The ruling PPP/Civic has held power since the 1992 elections, widely considered the first relatively free and fair elections in almost thirty years.
More recently, the 1997 and 2001 elections were occasions for significant inter-ethnic violence, and — with the murder rate soaring, and after recent incidents such as the assassination of agriculture minister Satyadeo Sawh in April and the murder of five Kaieteur News employees earlier this month — many Guyanese have spent recent months fearing that this year's elections would bring a further round of bloodshed. “Stock up and lock up,” suggested Guyana-Gyal on the eve of the elections. “‘Cause tomorrow is Election Day and we don't know what them following days gon bring.” Except she detected “something new strumming in the air … humming on tv, on the radio, campaigns for peace, young folks in ads on tv, singing a line or two, asking for peace”. And MediaCritic of Living Guyana reported on election day that the capital city, Georgetown, “is a fortress … We hear that most stores are completely boarded up as if people in Guyana think that Hurricane Ernesto is coming their way.” He suggested that if the PPP/Civic won a clear majority “one major section of the country … ARE GOING TO CAUSE TROUBLE”.
What complicates this year's elections is the existence of a new “third” party, the Alliance for Change (AFC), founded by relatively young former members of the PPP/Civic and the PNC/Reform. Over the last fifteen years, a number of small parties have tried to break the two main parties’ hold on electoral power — most notably the Working People's Alliance (WPA), which chose to boycott this year's elections. But the AFC is the first “third” party in recent times that has seemed capable of making a decisive intervention in Guyanese politics, perhaps by attracting enough votes to cause a hung assembly and a coalition government. This would be the “Election of Elections”, predicted demeraralighthouse in late July, who went on to suggest in detail what the PPP/Civic and PNC/Reform election strategies might be. By the weekend before the elections, it seemed clear from opinion polls that the PPP would win at least a plurality, returning President Bharath Jagdeo to office. The question was whether his party could command a majority and form a government outright.
On election day itself, all seemed quiet, with schools and offices closed and a heavy police and military presence on the streets to maintain order. After Guyana-Gyal voted, she complained about the deep purple indelible ink used to stain voters’ fingers (to prevent duplicate voting). “Now me finger look like if gangrene and riga-mortis setting in.” Voter turnout was also unusually low. “The PNC and the AFC looks as though they have failed miserably to dethrone the PPP”, wrote MediaCritic.
The elections commission had promised early results — in previous elections, it took several days for votes from Guyana's more remote districts to be counted — but as of Tuesday evening, a day after polls closed, there was still no official announcement. Still, numbers of one kind or another, and of uncertain reliability, were slipping out. At the JahajeeDesiForum — “a community web site for the Indian Diaspora in the Caribbean” — an administrator posted poll numbers suggesting that the PPP/Civic had an absolute majority of votes, with 670 of 1,999 polling stations reporting. MediaCritic also began posting a regular Unofficial Elections Results Update, with information from “sources in the media”. Early on he suggested that the AFC had beat the PPP in their Region 6 stronghold (running along the eastern border with Suriname). Then he reported “a VERY CLOSE race with the PPP in front”. But by his 7.04 pm update, the numbers were “PPP = 77014, PNC = 45,562 … No figures for the AFC but they are not looking good”, suggesting “a HUGE lead for the PPP”. MediaCritic also marvelled that at least four of the smaller parties had got zero votes in the national elections, as of 8.28 pm — “Not even the presidential candidates voted for themselves!” It seemed unlikely that official results would be announced before Wednesday.