Guyana - Political parties

Guyana's political parties are generally committed to socialism or some variant of it, but differ in the groups they represent and especially the ethnic groups that support them. A schism between the black and Asian Indian communities defines the major political division in the country.

In 1950, Cheddi Jagan and his wife organized the People's Progressive Party (PPP), which was anticolonial in nature, claimed to speak for the lower social classes, and cut across racial lines. Early in 1955, Forbes Burnham, who had been minister of education in Jagan's government, led a dissident PPP wing in the formation of the People's National Congress (PNC), which became the predominant political vehicle of Guyanese blacks, with Asian Indians remaining in the PPP. Until 1992, the PNC had dominated Guyana's politics since independence. It draws its members primarily from urban blacks, and was in the majority from its first government, formed after the 1964 elections, until 1992 when the PPP returned to power. The PNC ideologically defines itself as socialist, but stresses the importance of a mixed economy in which the private sector is encouraged.

The PPP had been the opposition party since the 1960s, after dominating Guyanan politics in the 1950s. Appealing to Asian Indian rice farmers and sugar workers, the PPP nevertheless claims to be primarily an ideological party. Over the years, the PPP has taken an orthodox socialist position along the lines of international Communism. However, Jagan has at times called for increased foreign investment, and introduced conservative economic measures during his tenure as premier in the early 1960s. PPP opposition has been both loyal and otherwise. After the 1973 elections, the PPP boycotted the National Assembly, charging electoral fraud. In 1976 the representatives took their seats. In the 1980s the party appeared to be waning, but the 1992 elections gave a boost to this long-standing party.

Because Guyana uses a proportional representation system, small parties are accommodated within the system. In preparation for the 1992 elections, Guyanan citizens formed nearly 20 new parties. One such group is the Working People's Alliance (WPA), a multi-ethnic independent party professing its own brand of Marxism. The WPA, founded in 1979, boycotted the 1980 elections on the grounds that they were bound to be rigged. In June 1980, its leader, Walter Rodney, was killed in a bomb blast. The party took one seat in the 1985 elections, and 2 seats in the 1992 elections. The United Force (TUF) was organized by Peter D'Aguilar, a wealthy brewer of Portuguese extraction, in the early 1960s. Its program, called economic dynamism, was based principally on close ties with the West, encouragement of foreign enterprise, and the acquisition of foreign loans. It helped the PNC form the first non-PPP government in Guyana in 1964, but in 1968 the PNC formed a government by itself. In 1973, TUF lost the four seats it had won in 1968. In 1980, TUF won two seats, which it held until 1992, when it lost one of the two.

The 1992 elections brought the PPP and Cheddi Jagan back to power. Jagan served as president until his death in March 1997. In the general elections of December 1997, his widow, Janet Jagan, was elected to succeed him, and the PPP remained in power with 36 seats, while the PNC held 26, the Alliance for Guyana 1, the TUF 1, and the Guyana Democratic Party 1. However, following extended challenges by the PNC over the validity of the election, Jagan resigned the following August, naming finance minister Bharrat Jagdeo to succeed her. Jagdeo has remained as PPP leader and prime minister since then.

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