Guyana was formerly known as British Guiana and prior to 1966 was a colony of the British for 200 years and before that the Dutch.
In 1953 the British government introduced a new constitution that set the country on the path to self-government. Prior to that, in 1950 the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) had been established by Dr Cheddi Jagan and was joined soon after by Linden Forbes Burnham. Both these men were to play an important role in the first years of independence.
In 1953 elections were held with the PPP winning, a feat they achieved again in 1957 and 1961 although there were many problems and splits along the way, as well as a falling out with the British as the PPP tried to establish a communist state.
In 1964 the PPP took 46% of the vote, but the new People’s National Congress (PNC), founded in 1957 by Linden Forbes Burnham after he broke away from the PPP, was supported by the United Force (TUF) and was able to assume power. The PNC went on to win all subsequent elections until 1992.
On 26th May 1966, Guyana became an independent state and on 23rd February 1970 became the Co-operative Republic of Guyana.
Following independence, elections in 1968, 1972, 1980 and 1985 were seen by the international community as having been rigged, and in 1980 the then prime minister Linden Forbes Burnham changed the constitution and introduced an Executive Presidency.
Burnham died in 1985 and after a period of turmoil the first internationally recognised free and fair elections were held in 1992. The PPP won that general election and Cheddi Jagan was elected president. The PPP have gone on to win the next three elections in 1997, 2001 and 2006 with the PNC coming second each time. Cheddi Jagan died in 1997 and Bharrat Jagdeo became the new president in 2001; he was re-elected in 2006.
As a result of the inflow of migrant workers by the former colonial powers, Guyana is a mixed race country. Around 43% of the population are of East Indian origin, 30% African origin, 17% mixed and 9% Amerindian.
From an early stage this led to the political parties adopting racial lines. The PPP have always been largely supported by the Indo Guyanese and the PNC by the Afro Guyanese. That in itself has created additional tensions. The Working People’s Alliance (WPA) has tried to transcend the racial divide as has the Alliance for Change (AFC).
In 2011 things on the political scene started to change. The People’s Progressive Party won the election but dropped four seats giving them 32 of the 65 seats in the National Assembly. Donald Ramotar was sworn in as the new President but was presiding over a minority government. A new political grouping of four older political parties was formed to fight the 2011 election called A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) and they had taken 26 seats. Soon after they started talks with the other opposition party, Alliance for Change (AFC) and by 2014 were working together, giving them a majority of the votes.
Ramotar responded by proroguing parliament in November 2014 to avoid a confidence vote. He was widely criticised for the move and in early 2015 called a general election for 11th May 2015. The election was largely hostile but the opposition, now called APNU+AFC, squeezed a narrow victory, taking 33 seats and ending the 23 year rule of the PPP. Opposition leader, David Granger, was sworn in as the new President on 16th May 2015.
The President is normally elected by the majority party in the National Assembly following legislative elections and the Prime Minister is then appointed by the President.
Guyana has a unicameral National Assembly consisting of 68 seats (65 elected by popular vote, 1 elected Speaker of the National Assembly and 2 non-voting members appointed by the President. Of the 65 seats, 25 members are elected from 10 geographical constituencies and 40 from a party list system which is headed up by the presidential candidate. Members serve five-year terms.
The Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) 2016 places Guyana at joint 108th out of 176 countries with a CPI 2016 score of 34 (where 100 is least corrupt).