Coalición de partidos llama a reactivar el recuento de votos y ya van 26 días sin resultados


APNU+AFC favours legal recount to stave off international sanctions

Wary of threats of international sanctions over electoral fraud, Guyana’s incumbent coalition A Partnership for National Unity+Alliance For Change (APNU+AFC) on Thursday said a recount of the votes cast in general elections earlier this month or an elections petition could settle concerns and forestall international sanctions.

APNU+AFC campaign manager, Joseph Harmon also referred to an elections petition-related audit as one other means of addressing intensified international threats—mainly by the United States and Britain—should a new government be sworn in based on non-credible results.

“We would like to see at the end of this a process that is deemed to be credible. As I said, whatever is within the law for that to occur, we would support that. We would like to see a credible process,” said Harmon who is the APNU General Secretary.

The US, Britain, Canada, France, the Organisation of American States (OAS) and the Commonwealth have all cautioned against a new government being sworn in on the basis of questionable election results.

Harmon said the coalition would back calls for a recount once it is a legal step, even as the country awaits a High Court decision on a judicial review requested by APNU+AFC candidate Ulita Moore.

Harmon appeared to endorse Moore’s call in court papers already filed that the Elections Commission should be allowed to consider a report by the Chief Elections Officer, Keith Lowenfield on the ten regional and national declarations in order to certify APNU+AFC the winner of the March 2, 2020 general and regional elections. “We believe that we have won these elections. We believe that the figures are there; they have been there since the 14th of March and, therefore, it is that this is what will avert these serious sanctions, I am sure that the President and the parties that comprise the APNU+AFC would be prepared to look at that carefully and give some consideration to it,” he said.

Harmon said previous efforts for a Caribbean Community (CARICOM)-supervised recount that was endorsed by President David Granger and Opposition Leader, Bharrat Jagdeo, were derailed after the high-level regional supervisory team asked that their role be gazetted. “All of this was triggered by a requirement which they (CARICOM team) made asking for a gazetted order before they could have started to work…It was not just about the agreement between President Granger and Mr. Jagdeo. It was about them feeling that they needed a level of protection and that could only come from an order which was gazetted so it was not we doing anything, the APNU doing anything, the PPP doing anything or any other party doing anything. This was a request made by the team itself,” Harmon said.

Harmon rejected assertions by the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) that APNU+AFC was backing Moore’s request for the judicial review but he conceded that the coalition became a party to the case as had the PPP and the several small political parties.

AFC Chairman, Raphael Trotman recalled that directives had trickled down from the top politicians to the six GECOM Commissioners to favourably consider a recount. “At the level of the commissioners, both sides committed to briefing their commissioners…saying that this process must proceed. You are to work out how it is to be done,” he said.

Demerara Waves

Ethnic Conflict Threatens Democracy in Guyana

By Jason S. Calder

It has been more than three weeks since Guyana’s March 2 elections, and there is still no final result. The process has become mired in controversy over the final tabulation of the votes in the most populous electoral district, which encompasses the capital of Georgetown.

The incumbent A Partnership for National Unity-Alliance for Change (APNU-AFC) coalition claimed victory on the back of vote margins from this district, which were thrown out once by the High Court for not following lawful tabulation procedures and then officially announced again following procedures international observers maintain are still not credible. The opposition People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP), which APNU-AFC ousted in 2015 after 23 years in power, and other political parties claim that transparent final tabulation of results will show that the PPP won.

Public unrest over the contested result has already claimed the life of one young protester. Racist and threatening social-media posts have proliferated, and the nation is on tenterhooks over the potential for further violence and what will come of its fragile democracy. Despite an attempt by the Caribbean Community, a regional body, to supervise a full recount of ballots, the process remains incomplete and mired in controversy.

International attention on Guyana has traditionally been nonexistent, but that’s changing. In the five years since the first discovery of oil in the offshore Stabroek block, more oil has been discovered in Guyana’s offshore waters than anywhere else in the world. The Exxon-led consortium responsible for these finds recently announced its 16th discovery, which would add to the 8 billion barrels already identified.

Companies such as Tullow and Repsol have also made finds, and Total has joined exploration as well. The discoveries are anticipated to triple Guyana’s gross domestic product in the coming years, from $4,715 in 2018 to $14,359 in 2023 in per capita terms, potentially making the Guyanese people the richest in the region.

While the discoveries have yet to touch the Guyanese economy, they have spurred a cottage industry of international press about the potential “resource curse” that oil could bring. Most of these articles argue Guyana is not ready because of weak institutions that could lead to potential corruption. Unfortunately, with few exceptions, journalists have ignored the underlying ethnic conflict that has held back the country’s development for 50 years and that now threatens to undermine democracy and peace.

The predicament in which the country finds itself was tragically predictable. Guyanese of African and Indian descent make up the two largest demographic blocks of the multicultural, English-speaking nation. Indo-Guyanese, descended from indentured laborers imported to work the colonial sugar plantations after the emancipation of enslaved Africans, hold the largest population share of any ethnic group in the country, but their share has been declining. The two groups are seen to support different political parties, Indo-Guyanese the PPP and Afro-Guyanese the People’s National Congress Reform (PNC), which is the dominant force behind the APNU-AFC coalition.

These realities and a winner-take-all constitution interact to create a toxic system that pits the two communities against each other in every election. Under Guyana’s proportional representation electoral system, it takes a mere plurality of votes to win the powerful presidency and appoint the cabinet. Under its party-list system, post-election coalitions are not permitted and parliamentarians are accountable to party chiefs rather than constituents.

There are few checks and balances in the system, although the High Court enjoys widespread confidence. The binary logic of the system effectively marginalizes the concerns of the country’s indigenous peoples—and their unfulfilled land claims—and those of mixed-race people and other ethnicities in the country known as the “Land of Six Peoples,” and of those who simply want to live as Guyanese without a hyphen.

The result is a politics of fear, exploited by political leaders on both sides, driven by concerns over ethnic exclusion, marginalization, and victimization. PPP supporters fear that the PNC will rig elections to stay in power, leaning on Afro-Guyanese predominance in the police, military, and in the capital city, as they did for 28 years during the Cold War from 1964 to 1992 (with the West’s connivance).

Afro-Guyanese fears are rooted in their numerical disadvantage relative to Indo-Guyanese, which was brought home over the 23 years from 1992 to 2015 under successive elected PPP administrations, and the perception of growing economic inequalities. The imperative of preventing the other side from controlling the proceeds of oil, and thus entrenching one’s advantage to the other’s exclusion, animate the fears of each of the major rivals.

Every nation struggles with its demons, but the U.S. government bears unique responsibility for some of Guyana’s. In the 1960s, the CIA’s manipulation of Guyana’s ethnic rivalries for Cold War ends had tragic and disfiguring impacts on the nascent body politic and the Guyanese state. Fearing that an independent Guyana under the PPP would align itself with Cuba and the Soviet Union, the United States pressured the United Kingdom, then Guyana’s colonial master, into changing the election system at independence to install the more ideologically palatable PNC. The ethnic violence unleashed during that era still scars the country today.

The PNC presided over a socialist economic experiment and electoral manipulation that resulted in louder and louder calls for democratic elections. The advent of democratic elections did not bring a durable peace to Guyana, however. With the benefit of its ethnic plurality and winner-take-all system, the PPP won successive democratic, although highly contested, elections from 1992 to 2011, as Afro-Guyanese grew increasingly angry and hopeless under a system they believed denied them any chance to regain power or check the excesses of the government.

From 1998 to 2008, episodes of ethnic violence triggered by winner-take-all elections traumatized the nation and dragged a new generation into the conflict. This period was marked by human-rights abuses, the emergence of Guyana as a nascent narcostate, extrajudicial killings, and economic marginalization that overwhelmingly, though not exclusively, afflicted Afro-Guyanese.

The Indo-Guyanese community perceived that successive PPP governments were perpetually under siege by a recalcitrant PNC unwilling to accept election losses and intent on getting into government “through the back door.” Some felt it was an attempt to undermine the government in an echo of the 1960s era of destabilization campaigns.

Years in the political wilderness forced reflection in parts of the PNC, which developed a broad-tent approach in forming the APNU coalition in 2011. This led to some electoral success in 2015 as part of the six-party APNU-AFC coalition when it joined a pre-election coalition with the multi-racial AFC and ousted the PPP, which had become beleaguered with perceptions of corruption. President David Granger styled himself as leading a broad, multiracial government of reconciliation, but met steadfast resistance from the PPP. The period was a reminder that one doesn’t make peace with one’s friends.

With the discovery of oil in 2015 the country became increasingly polarized, and the 2020 election loomed as a flash point. Each side attempted legal maneuvers to tilt the electoral system to their advantage. A private citizen brought a court case in late 2014 to challenge a provision of the constitution that prevented Bharrat Jagdeo, the PPP opposition leader and former two-term president, from running for a third presidential term.

The Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), Guyana’s final court of appeal, upheld the provision in 2018. Granger later broke two decades of precedent by appointing the chair of the election commission without the consent of the opposition, a decision that was later overturned by the CCJ in 2019.

Amid these escalating moves and countermoves, the system finally ruptured when the PPP brought a no-confidence motion against the APNU-AFC coalition government in December 2018. An Indo-Guyanese coalition member of Parliament crossed the floor and voted with the opposition, bringing down the government. PNC leaders called it an act of treachery and the party’s base vowed that after 23 years of PPP rule they would not accept just four. The government refused to step down and hold elections within the 90-day period mandated by the constitution and tied the matter up in courts for as long as it could, before eventually submitting to elections with both major ethnic communities angry, suspicious, and on edge.

The Carter Center, which helped support Guyana’s democratic transition in the early 1990s and has observed five of the country’s elections, has long staked out the position that the winner-take-all system is not right for Guyana. This is the position of many civil-society groups and, more quietly, politicians within the main parties themselves. However, opposition politicians in Guyana regularly pledge to reform the winner-take all system, but seem to lose passion for their principles once they get into government.

While both parties are to blame, the system favors the PPP because of the numerical superiority of its ethnic base. When former U.S. President Jimmy Carter visited the country in 2004 as the parties were mired in a protracted dispute over how to make governance more inclusive, he noted that the PPP “takes full advantage of the ancient ‘winner take all’ system in Guyana” and concluded: “There is little prospect for either substantial economic or social progress unless there is a truce in the political wars. No one party should bear the blame…. This problem can be solved only with basic constitutional changes in the system of governance.” These words ring true today.

When the controversial vote tabulation process fell apart three weeks ago, a viral video captured a senior executive of the PNC screaming “Murderers, y’all are murderers!” at a crowd of PPP leaders who yelled back at her “Riggers, riggers!” The exchange sadly captured the visceral emotions at play. The reality is that both sides, for different reasons, fear being ruled by the other.

There are no real winners for Guyana under this system. Its incompatibility with the mutual security of all of its major ethnic groups has been laid bare by these elections. Guyanese elder statesmen and civil-society groups have called for their leaders to take this opportunity to break the endless cycle of division and recriminations. There have been calls for a unity government, power sharing, and even a truth-and-reconciliation commission to help the country sort out its contested history and heal. Constitutional reform of the winner-take-all system must finally be put on the national agenda and treated seriously.

Many countries at similar crossroads, such as Guatemala and Tunisia, have chosen national dialogue as a means of seeking consensus on a way forward. To be effective, a dialogue must be well designed, address root causes of conflicts, be widely inclusive of all stakeholders, and have credible facilitators.

Such a process in Guyana would also have to address ruptured relationships and the fears of its various communities. It would not be easy, but could pave the way for acknowledging historical grievances, generating ideas for a more acceptable political system as a precursor to constitutional reform, identifying principles for equitably sharing oil revenues, and providing a public opportunity for everyone to commit to healing.

With the international community threatening sanctions and isolation if flawed election results are certified, Guyana’s leaders stand at a fork in the road. They can choose to repeat the errors of the past, or honestly face what this election has revealed and choose a route to reconciliation, constitutional reform, and a secure future for all Guyanese.

* Jason S. Calder is the head of the Washington office of Saferworld, an international peacebuilding organization. He has observed four elections in Guyana and his experience with the country spans 25 years. Twitter: @JasonCalder15

Foering Policy

Guyana’s oil revenues will decline in short term; ExxonMobil won’t stop production in Guyana

Plummeting demand for oil as a result of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and an oil price war are expected to see Guyana earning less than the US$300 million it had expected to rake in annually from the Liza Phase 1 project and force ExxonMobil to push back developing other oil reservoirs, an analyst said.

ExxonMobil spokeswoman in Guyana, Janelle Persaud said Thursday that “we have no new updates at this time.”

Senior Analyst at the Norway-headquartered Rystad Energy, Aditya Ravi told Demerara Waves Online News/News-Talk Radio Guyana 103.1 FM that Guyana was now expected to earn US$160 million to US$190 million annually from Liza 1. “That will take a hit in the current price environment,” he said.

He added that Guyana was expected to earn less from oil during 2021 and 2022 before prices recover in 2023. “By the time, they are back in 2023 we do not see any sort of significant change in what Guyana makes from the Stabroek Block,” he said.

He said that although ExxonMobil’s breakeven price is US$30 to US$40 per barrel, the company would not stop oil production in Guyana. “Given the FPSO (floating production, storage and offloading vessel) is leased which accounts for almost 30-40% of the overall production costs, we do not see Exxon turning off the taps, provided there are available export tankers in this oversupplied market,” he said.

Brent price was about US$26 per barrel on Thursday. Rystad Energy estimates that the production costs from the Liza 1 field is about US$7 to US$9 per barrel.

Asked why would ExxonMobil want to continue pumping oil from Guyana at US$25 to US$30 per barrel, Ravi noted that ExxonMobil is “the world leader in terms of both exploration and production.” “They have been at the top for so many years and they are in this oil deal for the long term. They are not a reactive company,” he said.

Oil prices have tumbled in recent weeks due to a slump in global demand for fuel for air, land and sea transportation due to the global COVID-19 pandemic. This has been worsened by the OPEC group of oil producers and its non-OPEC allies failing to reach agreement on extending cuts in oil supplies after March 31.

Looking ahead, Rystad Energy does not believe that oil prices in the US$20s and US$30s per barrel would be sustainable and so “wipe out a lot” of shale oil production in the United States, “essentially leaving the market under-supplied” by 2021. “Because of that, prices towards the end of 2021 and 2022 could be higher than what you see so US$30 per barrel is going to be short-lived,” Ravi said. In that regard, he predicted that Guyana would not be hard hit in the long term when the oil prices hit US$50 to US$60 per barrel again. “We don’t think that it has any sort of significant impact in the long term. At the max, what we believe is that all the cash flows that the government expects can be expected to be delayed by about six to eight months on a yearly basis but that is something I would say extremely in the long term,” he said.

Ravi notes that Liza Destiny continues to ramp up production considerably and has now reached around 95,000 to 100,000 barrels a day. So far, five tankers carrying a total of around 4.8 million barrels have left the Guyanese ports. “That is one of the fastest ramp-ups we have seen in terms of production…so in that sense Exxon and Guyana have done a fantastic job and we see production ramping up,” he said.

The Rystad Energy Senior Analyst expected ExxonMobil to make final investments decisions (FIDs) on Payara-Pacora before year-end and Hammerhead over the next 12 to 18 months. He said even though the breakeven oil price for these projects are on the $30 to US$40 range, the uncertainty regarding the short-term and the long-term crude prices would prevent companies from rushing FIDs.

“Capital discipline is need of the hour,” he said, adding that the companies would need shareholder approval and secure loans

Ravi said Rystad Energy believed that ExxonMobil would delay its FID on Payara-Pacora into the second half of 2020.

The analyst said front-end engineering work could also be delayed at Hammerhead due to the coronavirus pandemic and uncertain market conditions may put some downward pressure on service costs “and operators may want to leverage that.” “Hence, could be a wait and watch scenario from an operator point of view,” he added.

Ravi forecast that over the long term, activity could be affected slightly as the market returns to normalcy. He added that there could be a flood of new developments which could potentially lead to lower competition for FPSO awards as floater specialists would have several projects to choose from, resulting in a spike in costs.

The coronavirus, he said, could also take a toll on the construction time of the second FPSO, Liza Unity, and ultimately the project start-up. “As of now, it is extremely hard to pin-point on how much the project would be delayed. However, it is likely that the startup could slip by 3-6 months as quarantine measures in China in 1Q (1st quarter) and the lockdown measures in 2Q (2nd quarter) outside China would result in slower progress over the entire supply chain.”

In terms of exploration, the Rystad Energy analyst said operators are expected to scale down budgets and “this would have an immediate impact on new-field exploration.” He was quick to point out, however, that Exxon would not likely scale down activity in Guyana where it has three rigs in operation until the end of 2020 and recently added a fourth.

Rystad Energy describes itself as an independent energy research and business intelligence company providing data, tools, analytics and consultancy services to clients exposed to the energy industry across the globe.

Demerara Waves

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