OAS pulls Guyana vote count observers over 'fairness' concerns

Georgetown (Guyana) (AFP) –


The Organization of American States says it has withdrawn its observer mission to Guyana's elections due to concerns over the "fairness and transparency" of the vote count in the South American nation.

The US, EU, British and Canadian ambassadors on Friday also walked out over the vote tabulation for Region 4, a major government stronghold which includes the capital Georgetown and is the largest voting district in the former British colony.

President David Granger is trying to hold onto a razor-thin majority in the parliament of the oil-rich but cash-poor country.

International observers had previously urged Granger not to claim victory until the results of the March 2 elections can be verified, due to "credible" allegations of fraud.

The OAS observer mission reiterated its warning that the vote count for Region 4 "does not meet the required standard of fairness and transparency" and the election official had defied the chief justice's order that observers should be able to see what was being counted and how.

In a statement explaining the withdrawal of its observers, the OAS said the count was "unlikely to produce a result that is credible and is able to command public confidence."

"The legitimacy of any government that is installed in these circumstances will be open to question. This would be a terrible blow to the country's democracy. The people of Guyana do not deserve this."

Disregarding the protests, Guyana's elections commission went ahead late Friday and declared results for the district -- the last to be tallied -- that showed Granger's APNU+AFC coalition ahead with 136,057 of 218,927 votes cast, against 77,231 for the opposition People's Progressive Party (PPP).

The results were immediately rejected by the PPP.

"The experiences of these last few days and particularly that of tonight shows that by no standard, by no measure a credible, transparent, electoral process, a fair process was being delivered to the Guyanese people," said the opposition-aligned election commissioner, Robeson Benn.

Voicing similar concerns to the OAS, the US, EU, British and Canadian ambassadors said the results from Region 4 and overall election outcome "will not be credible and a president sworn in on the basis of those results will not be considered legitimate."

Guyanese politics is riven by ethnic divisions, with the ruling Partnership for National Unity and Alliance for Change (ANPU-AFC) supported by the Afro-Guyanese community while the opposition People's Progressive Party (PPP) is backed by the Indo-Guyanese population.

The election is being watched more closely than might ordinarily be the case because the eventual winner will be in control of a coming oil boom that is set to transform Guyana.

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