In November 2019, the International Monetary Fund gave Guyana the nod as the world’s fastest growing economy on the strength of ExxonMobil’s mega oil discoveries. The country became an oil producer just over three months ago when the price per barrel was in the mid-$60 range and the novel coronavirus – COVID-19 – was still a distant issue with no ramifications for the new petroleum state.
Since that time oil prices have fallen by more than half and COVID-19 has reached pandemic status wreaking havoc across the globe with the number of deaths rising and economies and industries collapsing.
As if this was not bad enough, the new South American oil producing nation is now in the midst of a political crisis brought on by transparency issues in its March 2 election where allegations of fraud in the tabulation of votes have prevented the swearing in of a president.
The confluence of unfortunate events is enough to cause concern about the country’s ability to withstand the shocks and retake its place in the sun as the fastest growing economy in the world. But even in face of the COVID-19 pandemic and weak oil price, it is Guyana’s political crisis that has the strongest potential to do it in and erase all vestiges of hope that gripped the tiny nation since the first oil strike back in 2015.
Caribbean academic Sir Ronald Sanders who is Antigua and Barbuda’s Ambassador to the United States and to the Organization of American States, has said if Guyana’s leaders fail to take advantage of the narrowing window of opportunity to produce a credible elections result, it will have closed every chance to maintain its democracy.
“Worse it will itself invite the sanctions that will certainly come and the ostracization and pain that will follow. CARICOM should help, but Guyana must save itself,” Sanders said.
Save itself it must, but from all indications this is proving to be a difficult task.
Following polling day on March 2, the tabulation of votes for the largest district was rejected by contesting parties and observers who said the process used by Returning Officer, Clairmont Mingo, lacked transparency.
The court then ordered Mingo to retabulate the votes in keeping with the law, but according to observers, this was again done in a non-transparent manner.
Next, a full recount of all the votes, seen as the best way forward, was agreed to by President David Granger and Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo. As a result, a high-level team from CARICOM flew to Guyana to validate the process. However, before the recount could begin, a person associated with the President’s party moved to the court and secured an injunction blocking it from moving forward.
“It is clear that there are forces that do not want to see the votes recounted for whatever reason. Any Government which is sworn in without a credible and fully transparent vote count process would lack legitimacy,” said Mia Mottley, Chair of CARICOM, after the recount was thwarted.
Although the way has since been cleared by the court for the recount to proceed, a preliminary plan provided last week by the electoral body said it would take a lengthy 156 days to complete, signaling even more delays and uncertainty. Election Commissioners have since met again and a revised plan for the recount is expected to be submitted by Tuesday.
What is certain is that Guyana is running out of time for an amicable solution to this problem. The number of COVID-19 cases as of April 10 stood at 45 and is expected to further increase in the coming weeks making it increasingly difficult to mobilize for a recount.
“I am getting a feeling that this is not going to end well…I hope I am wrong but that feeling…I am not having a good feeling…I have this unsettling feeling [that grows] with every passing day,” Dr Keith Rowley, Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago said in an interview on April 4.
Ultimately, how it ends will depend on how serious Guyana is about protecting its fledgling democracy and securing its future.