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GEORGETOWN, Guyana – A ruling party in power for over two decades in Guyana faces off in general elections Monday against a new coalition of opposition parties that accuse President Donald Ramotar's government of mismanagement and corruption.
Ramotar's People's Progressive Party has been in power since 1992 and is seeking a sixth consecutive term leading the sparsely populated country on South America's northern shoulder with an economy dependent on the export of commodities such as gold, bauxite, rice and sugar.
"Our record speaks for itself," Ramotar told a rally of supporters over the weekend, touting various improvements to infrastructure and education.
But his party faces a tough fight from an opposition coalition led by David Granger, a 69-year-old retired army general. The coalition Granger leads has offered itself as an alternative to the racially based politics that have dominated the ethnically-divided South American country for decades.
"For the first time in 60 years, we have brought the major ethnic groups together under one umbrella," Granger asserted to a crowd of roughly 25,000 partisans who gathered at a late Saturday rally in the capital of Georgetown.
Ramotar's party also touts itself as an inclusive party for all citizens. But historically, the People's Progressive Party has primarily been supported by people of Indian descent.
The two major factions and a handful of small parties are vying for 65 Parliament seats. More than 570,000 people are eligible to vote at 2,400 polling stations across the country.
There was no obvious front-runner in the race, with no independent opinion polls.
But on Sunday, a number of residents of Guyana's capital of Georgetown said they were backing Granger's coalition.
"I want change. I have applied everywhere for a job and can't get one," said 18-year-old Tasha Persaud, who said all her relatives have been increasingly struggling financially.
Last election cycle in 2011, Ramotar and his People's Progressive Party defeated Granger and another coalition he led. This time around, Granger is leading a coalition made up of the Partnership for National Unity and the Alliance for Change parties. The two parties had a one-seat majority in the last Parliament.
Monday's elections are being held more than a year earlier than scheduled because Ramotar had suspended and later dissolved Parliament to avoid a no-confidence vote. Elections had to be held within three months following the dissolution of the legislature.
At times, the campaign season has been tense. Amnesty International said the March 10 killing of a political activist as he was campaigning for the opposition fueled "fear" ahead of the vote.
Various international teams will observe Monday's contest, including missions from the Carter Center and the Organization of American States. On Sunday, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, 90, had to depart Guyana and return to the U.S. since he was "not feeling well," according to the Carter Center.
Official results were not expected until Wednesday.