Guyana polls close, results due later this week

Georgetown (Guyana) (AFP) –


Voters in Guyana cast their ballots Monday in a general election that will decide who will control the approaching oil boom in the country, one of the poorest in South America.

President David Granger of the governing Partnership for National Unity and Alliance for Change (ANPU-AFC) is trying to hold onto a razor-thin majority in parliament under pressure from the opposition People's Progressive Party (PPP) candidate Irfaan Ali.

The ruling coalition gets much of its support from the Afro-Guyanese community, while the PPP is backed by the Indo-Guyanese population.

The Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) said voting throughout the country had been mainly peaceful and orderly.

Riot police were called to Mon Repos Village, an opposition stronghold just outside the capital Georgetown, after rumors swirled that some people had tried to vote illegally.

ANPU-AFC supporters gathered near the polling station to vent their anger, although no major incidents were reported.

The Head of the Organisation of American States (OAS) observer mission, Bruce Golding, urged GECOM to ease potential tensions by announcing election results as soon as possible.

"It is not good to have an election on a Monday and several days can pass without the people of Guyana knowing what the outcome of those elections are," said Golding, the former Jamaican prime minister.

"That is courting mistrust, it is providing fertile ground for rumors and conspiracy theories."

Collecting results from remote locations in territory dominated by forests, mountains and rivers can be slow and partial results are not expected until Wednesday or Thursday.

Polls opened at 6:00 am (1000 GMT) under the watchful eyes of observers from the OAS, the European Union, and the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), and closed at 6:00 pm.

The two main political parties shared a 33-32 split in the outgoing 65-seat National Assembly.

Another nine smaller parties that sprung up within the last year also contested the election.

In Georgetown, party workers went through the streets calling out for people to wake up and vote early.

People began forming lines two hours before polls opened at some stations, including the Diamond Secondary School in East Bank Demerara, about 10 miles (16 kilometers) south of Georgetown.

"The polling agents and all the staff here seem to have their work laid out and the process was smooth," PPP prime ministerial candidate Mark Phillips told AFP.

- Oil boom on horizon -

A coming oil boom is set to transform Guyana, located on the northeastern tip of South America, after ExxonMobil in December began commercial exploitation of a huge 2016 discovery off the coast.

The International Monetary Fund expects the country's economy to record the biggest growth worldwide this year, a staggering 85 percent.

Oil production is currently around 52,000 barrels per day but is expected to grow to 750,000 bpd from 2025.

The former British colony -- bordered by Brazil, Venezuela and Suriname -- has a population of around 750,000, though lawmakers believe that one-third or more have emigrated to North America and the Caribbean.

The 65 members of Guyana's National Assembly are elected using closed list proportional representation, with voters selecting parties rather than individual candidates.

The leader of the single party or coalition that emerges with the most seats becomes president.