Country Listing

Guyana Table of Contents


Involvement in Political Affairs

Until 1969 the GDF observed British military ethics, which held that the armed forces should be loyal to the "government of the day" and not otherwise involved in politics. Beginning in 1973, the PNC regularly used the GDF to help it win every national election. Because of irregularities in previous elections, the opposition parties had argued that the ballots be counted in each electoral district for the 1973 general election. However, the PNC insisted that ballot boxes be taken to three designated counting centers. As occurred in the 1968 elections, opposition members were not allowed to accompany the ballot boxes to the counting centers. On July 16, 1973, election day, GDF personnel shot and killed two PPP members as they protested the removal of ballot boxes from a polling station. Throughout the country, the GDF and police were quick to resort to force when removing ballot boxes from the electoral districts.

Once they were collected, large numbers of ballot boxes were quarantined at Camp Ayanganna for more than twenty-four hours with no reason given. The PNC apparently had expected to receive a large number of votes in its traditional Georgetown strongholds and initially had allowed a fair count in districts there. When early results showed a low voter turnout, the PNC called on the GDF to intervene.

At the PNC's first biennial congress in 1974, the GDF was required to pledge its allegiance to the PNC. During the 1970s and 1980s, GDF soldiers routinely received political indoctrination. The GDF also scheduled marches to celebrate major PNC political events, such as party congresses.

The PNC's increasing politicization and subordination of the GDF disturbed many members of the officer corps. When some expressed a desire for military neutrality, PNC informants in the armed forces alerted Burnham to the dissension within the GDF. In August 1979, Colonel Ulric Pilgrim, the operational force commander, and Colonel Carl Morgan, a battalion commander, were dismissed. Pilgrim and Morgan had been two of the most popular officers in the GDF. Burnham appointed a PNC loyalist, Colonel David Granger, commander of the GDF. To extend his influence further, Burnham also replaced the army chief of staff Brigadier General Clarence Price with a Burnham loyalist who had been a civilian police officer. The appointment of Norman McLean, a former traffic chief, shocked and enraged many GDF officers. The PNC government attempted to rebuild support by issuing a postage stamp in 1981 honoring the GDF.

The general election of December 1980, the first since 1973, was severely criticized by international observers for its irregularities. The security forces were spared blame, except for the police detention on December 9 of Lord Avebury, head of the international observer team.

In preparation for the 1985 elections, the PNC regime reenacted Part II of the National Security Act. This act gave the security forces wide-ranging powers of detention, including the authority to prevent people "from acting in a manner likely to cause subversion of democratic institutions in Guyana." The latitude authorized by the National Security Act intimidated the opposition parties. Reenactment of Part II was quickly followed by army chief of staff McLean's announcement that the army would secure and escort ballot boxes during the election. The PNC's victory was announced on December 12, three days after the election. In response, several civic groups, including the Guyana Bar Association and the Guyana Council of Churches, released a joint communique condemning, among other things, "violence and collusion by police and army personnel."

Data as of January 1992