Guyana on Monday voted for a new government in a bruising fight for control of the tiny South American country, whose oil revenues in the next decade could make it one of the wealthiest in the Western Hemisphere.
A consortium comprised of Exxon Mobil and partners — Hess Oil of the US and China National Offshore Oil Corp — in late December last year began to pump oil from offshore deposits that contain an estimated 8 billion barrels.
Guyana late last month sent its own first shipment of 1 million barrels to markets in Asia and the US as part of a production-sharing agreement.
Officials have said that Guyana would earn US$300 million as its share this year, but the figure is to jump to US$5 billion by 2025, when crude from a third oil field begins to flow.
Foreign direct investment from oil-related activities is nearing US$1 billion.
Under terms of the deal with Exxon, the nation of fewer than 1 million people gets a 2 percent royalty and 50 percent of sales after the consortium recovers its investment from every shipment.
The commercial finds have already brought all of the world’s majors, including Tullow of the UK, Repsol of Spain and Total of France, to the continent’s only English-speaking nation, as well as support companies such as Haliburton of the US. All plan to drill wells this year.
Members of the governing Partnership for National Unity and Alliance for Change (ANPU-AFC) led by 74-year-old Guyanese President David Granger and supported mainly by descendants of Africans taken to Guyana as slaves have said that they would be better stewards of the country’s newfound wealth.
Governing coalition leader Aubrey Norton told reporters that the opposition People’s Progressive Party (PPP), supported mostly by Guyanese of East Indian descent taken to Guyana as indentured servants, had an established record of corruption.
The PPP was in power for 23 years, until 2015.
“When they were in power and we had little or nothing, they stole terribly. What will prevent them now from stealing again? Oil around the world has been associated with corruption. They simply can’t be trusted with our oil wealth,” Norton said.
PPP presidential candidate Irfaan Ali, a 40-year-old former housing minister, has faced questions about potentially fraudulent academic qualifications, but said that he is also confident of victory.
Former two-term Guyanese president Bharrat Jagdeo of the PPP said that his party would negotiate far better contracts with incoming oil companies.
“They signed a contract that was so lopsided that the foreigners and those people will benefit from almost everything. We the people will get very little. The oil belongs to the people of Guyana, all 800,000 of us, and it must benefit our people,” Jagdeo told a rally.
More than 2,500 polling stations opened at 6am on Monday, with observer groups from the commonwealth of former British territories, the Caribbean trading bloc and the Organization of American States (OAS).
In December, a ruling party lawmaker sided with the PPP in a no-confidence motion, erasing the government’s one-seat majority in the 65-member Guyanese National Assembly and forcing it into caretaker status.
Parliament has not met for most of the past year and is suspended because of elections.
The lawmaker said that he was dissatisfied with the government’s performance and denied allegations that he was bribed to side with the PPP. He fled to Canada hours after the vote.
Both parties have been trying to win over the 10 percent of the population in indigenous communities near Venezuela and Brazil that function as swing votes. Both parties have been accused of transferring much of the wealth, state contracts and land to supporters.
The Guyana Elections Commission said that voting throughout the country had been mainly peaceful and orderly.
Riot police were called to Mon Repos Village, an opposition stronghold just outside the capital, Georgetown, after rumors swirled that some people had tried to vote illegally. ANPU-AFC supporters gathered near the polling station to vent their anger, although no major incidents were reported.
OAS observer mission head Bruce Golding urged the commission to ease potential tensions by announcing election results as soon as possible.
“It is not good to have an election on a Monday and several days can pass without the people of Guyana knowing what the outcome of those elections are,” said Golding, a former Jamaican prime minister.
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