Freedom Status: Free
Aggregate Score: 74
Freedom Rating: 2.5
Political Rights: 2
Civil Liberties: 3
Press Freedom Status: Partly Free
Net Freedom Status: N/A
In February 2015, A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) and the Alliance for Change (AFC) formed a coalition to contest the May general elections with a single list of candidates. The coalition, led by retired general David Granger of the APNU, ultimately won by a narrow margin, ending 23 years of rule by the People's Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C).
The new administration undertook a number of actions to expose and control the country's pervasive corruption, including passage of a law to combat money laundering and the establishment of an agency to investigate graft by the previous government.
POLITICAL RIGHTS AND CIVIL LIBERTIES
Political Rights: 32 / 40 (+2)
A. Electoral Process: 11 / 12
Guyana's 1980 constitution provides for a strong president and a 65-seat National Assembly, with members elected every five years. The president appoints four additional, nonvoting members. The leader of the party with a plurality of parliamentary seats becomes president for a five-year term.
In the May 2015 elections, the APNU-AFC coalition took 50.3 percent of the vote and 33 seats, leaving the incumbent PPP/C with 32 seats. Although the seat totals were essentially the same as in the previous National Assembly, the fact that the APNU and AFC ran as a bloc in 2015 allowed them to install Granger as president. The outgoing president, Donald Ramotar, had prorogued the assembly in November 2014 to prevent a vote of no confidence by the two opposition parties, but he was forced to call early elections in January 2015 when the suspension failed to ease the pressure on his minority government.
B. Political Pluralism and Participation: 13 / 16
Guyanese politics have historically been dominated by a tense split between descendants of indentured workers from India, known as Indo-Guyanese, who generally back the PPP/C, and Afro-Guyanese, who traditionally supported the People's National Congress Reform (PNCR) party. The PNCR, now the core element in the APNU, grew out of the People's National Congress, which had ruled Guyana autocratically from independence in 1966 until the PPP won elections in 1992. The APNU-AFC victory in 2015 was only the second rotation of power in the country's history.
Some Guyanese have begun voting across racial lines, especially since the 2006 elections and the establishment of the multiracial AFC. However, race remained a salient issue during the 2015 campaign period. Observers from the Carter Center, for instance, warned against political rhetoric that risked stoking hostility among the country's ethnic groups.
The indigenous minority remains politically marginalized, though a small number of parliament seats and cabinet positions are held by indigenous people, and a Ministry of Indigenous Peoples' Affairs is tasked with improving conditions for indigenous communities.
C. Functioning of Government: 8 / 12 (+2)
The 2015 elections ended a political impasse in which President Ramotar had attempted to govern despite his party's lack of a majority in the National Assembly. Although he avoided a no-confidence vote in November 2014 by using his constitutional authority to prorogue the assembly for up to six months, the suspension did little to ease tensions, and Ramotar formally dissolved the legislature in early 2015 so that elections could be held.
The PPP/C government's failure to address pervasive corruption was a major source of friction with the main opposition parties. Guyana was ranked 119 out of 168 countries and territories surveyed in Transparency International's 2015 Corruption Perceptions Index. The country is a transit point for South American cocaine destined for North America and Europe, and corruption linked to the illegal drug trade allegedly affects high-level state officials.
The new APNU-AFC government pledged to combat corruption through a variety of initiatives. In June, the National Assembly passed long-stalled legislation to strengthen controls on money laundering and financing of terrorism. The government also established a State Asset Recovery Unit (SARU), which began auditing state-owned companies. Among other cases, the SARU investigated a scandal in which state-owned National Industrial and Commercial Investments Limited (NICIL) had spent large sums to develop land that it subsequently sold at favorable prices to members and associates of the PPP/C government, including former president Bharrat Jagdeo. In October, the SARU recommended that the attorney general pursue criminal charges against at least five former PPP/C ministers.
Civil Liberties: 42 / 60 (+1)
D. Freedom of Expression and Belief: 15 / 16
Although freedom of the press is generally respected, the media have had an uneasy relationship with the government. Several independent newspapers operate freely, including the daily Stabroek News and Kaieteur News. However, opposition party leaders have complained that they lack access to state media. The first private radio station began broadcasting in 2012. Government officials have used libel lawsuits to suppress negative media coverage. In late 2014, Kaieteur News published a transcript of an alleged phone call by the attorney general at the time to one of the paper's senior reporters, in which he threatened deadly repercussions if the paper continued its critical reporting on the PPP/C government. Internet access is not restricted.
Guyanese generally enjoy freedom of religion, and the government does not limit academic freedom. There are no restrictions on free and open private discussion.
E. Associational and Organizational Rights: 10 / 12
The government largely respects freedoms of assembly and association. While police have shot at political protesters in the past, there were no notable crackdowns in 2015. Nongovernmental organizations operate freely.
The right to form labor unions is generally upheld, and unions are well organized. However, laws against antiunion discrimination are poorly enforced.
F. Rule of Law: 8 / 16 (+1)
The judicial system is independent, but due process is undermined by shortages of staff and funds. Police violence, abuse of detainees, and harsh, overcrowded conditions in prisons remain concerns in Guyana. In 2015, however, Public Security Minister Khemraj Ramjattan, leader of the AFC, moved to dismiss police officers who had been found responsible for past abuses. The country continued to suffer from a high rate of violent crime, though previously rising crime statistics appeared to be leveling off or decreasing by the end of 2015.
Racial polarization has had an impact on law enforcement. Although Afro-Guyanese have historically dominated the police force, they have also raised concerns about police brutality against their population.
The nine indigenous groups in Guyana face challenges in accessing state resources, especially in education and health care. The 2006 Amerindian Act aimed to strengthen indigenous peoples' rights to their land and local self-governance, but many communities continue to experience isolation and discrimination. In August 2015, the Amerindian Action Movement of Guyana (TAAMOG) sued the government over its dismissal of nearly 2,000 Amerindians who had been employed under the Youth Entrepreneurship and Apprenticeship Programme (YEAP). YEAP was established to reduce unemployment among Amerindians aged 18 to 40, but the new government argued that it had failed to provide useful training and that many recruits were used for partisan political work.
Sexual activity between men is punishable with a maximum sentence of life in prison, and cross-dressing is criminalized for both men and women. Police routinely intimidate gay men.
G. Personal Autonomy and Individual Rights: 9 / 16
There are no legal and few practical restrictions on freedom of movement and residency in Guyana, though racial polarization may limit individuals' free access to some areas. All citizens have the right to own and operate businesses and to own property, but economic activity is affected by widespread corruption and organized crime with links to the drug trade.
Violence against women, including domestic abuse, is widespread. Rape often goes unreported and is rarely prosecuted. Guyana permits elective abortion. Although women enjoy legal equality with men, they remain significantly underrepresented in the workforce and face discrimination in employment and compensation.
Sex trafficking and forced labor are problems for both Guyanese citizens and migrant workers, particularly in mining communities in the country's interior. The government has made some efforts to combat trafficking in persons, but the relevant programs lack adequate resources.
Scoring Key: X / Y (Z)
X = Score Received
Y = Best Possible Score
Z = Change from Previous Year
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