March 19, 2001

Uncertainty hangs over elections in Guyana

                  GEORGETOWN, Guyana (AP) -- Some voters wore T-shirts Monday with the
                  slogan, "My vote must count," worried that they may be kept from casting
                  ballots in an election that has revived divisions between those of African and East
                  Indian descent.

                  Forming long lines beginning at dawn, Guyanese turned out in large numbers to
                  vote. Many said they hoped to leave the polling stations early and return home
                  before any violence.

                  "You don't know what is going to happen," said Shard Singh, a 25-year-old
                  housewife of Indian descent who stood with about 100 people waiting to vote at
                  a primary school.

                  Elections in the former British colony in South America are usually disputed and
                  often volatile. After the last election in 1997, the black-dominated opposition said
                  the vote was rigged to favor the East Indian-backed governing party, prompting
                  race riots and bombings. One person died and several were injured.

                  This year, the uncertainty is most prevalent among Guyana's black voters, many
                  of whom say they are suspicious of vote-rigging attempts by the governing

                  "If it doesn't go fairly, people do crazy things," said Renson Patterson, who is
                  black and works at a hair salon in Georgetown, the capital. "If it doesn't go well,
                  you'll find the blacks against the Indians."

                  The party with the most votes at the national level wins the presidency and a
                  majority in the 65-seat National Assembly.

                  Recent polls have suggested the People's Progressive Party of the
                  Indian-descended president, 37-year-old Bharrat Jagdeo, is the front-runner
                  against its primary opponent, the People's National Congress of 72-year-old
                  former President Desmond Hoyte, a black Guyanese.

                  Hoyte said after he voted Monday that there are "too many unacceptable errors"
                  in voter registration lists used to determine who may vote.

                  "Too many people are being disenfranchised," he said. Hoyte warned in one of
                  his last campaign appearances Saturday night that the governing party is "up to
                  serious tricks."

                  Jagdeo's party maintains that it has not influenced the process and that the
                  country's elections commission is solely in control.

                  Both Jagdeo and Hoyte have expressed concern about the accuracy of the voter
                  lists. The elections commission says it has largely corrected discrepancies.

                  It was unclear how many errors remained. Peter Ramsaroop, a parliamentary
                  candidate of the People's National Congress, said his name was missing from a
                  voter list for his district.

                  "I think the elections commission has failed in its promise to ensure we have a
                  free and fair election," said Ramsaroop, one of the black-dominated party's
                  candidates of Indian descent.

                  Jagdeo's party also includes black candidates, and after casting his ballot the
                  president said he is committed to unity.

                  "I am all for inclusivity, and for talking to the opposition," Jagdeo said. "I hope
                  that whenever the results come out, that we can all accept the results."

                  Both Hoyte and Jagdeo have promised economic improvement for the country of
                  roughly 700,000 people, where about one in five is unemployed and the average
                  monthly salary for a civil servant is the equivalent of about $120. The economy
                  grew by an average of 7 percent a year between 1991 and 1998, but has been
                  shrinking since then.

                  Before the vote, people crowded markets to buy provisions in case of violence.

                  Shopkeeper Shoba Singh said she thinks the only way to heal the divisions is for
                  black and Indian leaders to share power.

                  "One can be president, and one can be prime minister," she said. "Everybody
                  would be satisfied."

                  Copyright 2001 The Associated Press.