However, Bharrat Jagdeo’s Peoples Progressive Party Civic (PPP) faces challenges from its traditional rival, Peoples National Congress Reform-One Guyana (PNC), and also the new Alliance For Change (AFC), so Jagdeo will struggle to score a 51 per cent majority in the national assembly.
He can return to the presidency if the PPP wins the largest share of the vote, but will need support from another party if the PPP cannot capture more than half of the 65-seat legislature.
“We feel that we’ll win the elections. Fifty-one per cent is important but anything above that is a bonus,” Jagdeo, 43, said.
The latest poll conducted by the North American Caribbean Teachers Association gives the AFC 15 per cent, PNC 28 per cent and the PPP more than 50 per cent.
Jagdeo, an economist who supports private sector-led development, is stressing his party’s cutting of the national debt and improvements to health, housing and education services.
But the country’s racial divide, a surge in gang violence and drug-related crime, and corruption are figuring strongly in the campaign.
Guyana got its independence
At least 400 people have been killed in the gang violence in the past four years, and the US and Britain have been pressing Guyana over signs that the island is being used to smuggle cocaine.
Security forces have meanwhile yet to stop a gang of nearly 30 armed men, some of whom are believed to have killed Satyadeow Sawh, the agriculture minister, earlier this year.
Race has traditionally underpinned Guyana’s political divide: the East Indian community, descendants of labourers brought from India, backs the PPP, while Guyanese of African origin generally support the PNC. Jagdeo’s human touch has allowed him to bridge that gap to a certain extent.
Jagdeo’s challenger, Robert Corbin, 57, the leader or the PNC, is going into the election with a plan to crack down on crime and offer poor youths greater opportunities with an empowerment scheme and free university education.
While the polls show that PPP’s control of the government since 1992 is not severely threatened, the AFC may possibly shift the balance.
Formed nine months ago by two disgruntled former executives of the two dominant parties, the AFC has been pushing for greater accountability, ending more than 40 years of race-based politics in the former British colony, improving the social sector and fighting crime and corruption.
Raphael Trotman, 39, the party’s presidential candidate, said: “We have to do this together, we cannot continue to vote race any longer, because if we do vote race, the result is going to be the same.”
The polls will be monitored by more than 160 observers from the Organisation of American States, the Caribbean Community, the British Commonwealth and the Carter Centre.