THE INAUGURATION, at last, of Irfaan Ali as Guyana’s president draws a line under an election impasse that strained that country’s relationship with the world and served as a cautionary reminder of the problems caused when politics and race mix.
“We all want a society which is free, prosperous, socially just, globally competitive and which serves every Guyanese equitably,” Mr Ali’s party, the PPP/C, declared in its manifesto.
Fulfilling that vision will be among his government’s most pressing challenges.
Far from a honeymoon period, disunity and distrust, among other possible crises, will almost certainly define the coming weeks.
Political factions are still smarting from a poorly-managed election process that was bent far out of shape; a flood of litigation from both sides; and deep concerns from a host of international actors – among them the Commonwealth and the US, which went as far as to impose visa restrictions.
Indeed, David Granger’s relinquishing of the position of president likely reflected the reality that under his leadership the country had been pushed perilously close to pariah status, with even Caricom voicing disquiet despite a long history of non-interventionism.
By Sunday, time was up for Mr Granger.
Mr Ali struck a conciliatory tone on Monday in a meeting with civil servants, but storm clouds were already gathering. Mr Granger signalled another election petition was in the works, even as he urged supporters to act lawfully and peacefully.
And Guyana’s covid19 cases spiked alarmingly.
All eyes will be on how the new president forges a course through such turbulent waters.
Mr Ali was born in Leonora, but spent much of his childhood on the island of Leguan, in the mouth of the Essequibo River on the western coast. Trained as an urban planner, he has experience as a cabinet minister, with portfolios ranging from housing to tourism.
The PPP/C now has the daunting task of creating 50,000 new jobs in a time of global economic catastrophe.
Mr Ali has also pledged proper management of the oil and gas sector, at a time when an expected windfall has pushed Guyana’s economic growth to its highest levels in years. The global oil slump, however, raises questions about how steadily this revenue will flow.
Meanwhile, supporters of both parties, split along ethnic lines, have long agonised over possible exclusion from gains. Mr Ali’s party has been aligned with Indo-Caribbean people, Mr Granger’s with the population of African descent.
The fact that the election was resolved without a complete breakdown – police clashed fatally with protesters initially, but the situation calmed – is testimony to the strength of Guyana’s judicial system. That system saw the matter go all the way to the Port of Spain-based Caribbean Court of Justice at a key point.
Of all of this, TT should take careful note.