Polls open in Guyana elections amid oil boom

©Agence France-Presse

Supporters of presidential candidate David Granger, of the National Unity and Alliance for Change (APNU+AFC) party, cheer and wave flags in Georgetown ahead of Monday's elections in Guyana

Georgetown (Guyana) (AFP) - Voters in Guyana began casting ballots Monday in a general election to decide which of its main parties will control the country's approaching oil boom.

Voting is likely to be tight between the ruling Partnership for National Unity and Alliance for Change (ANPU-AFC), led by President David Granger, and the opposition leftist People's Progressive Party (PPP) of Irfaan Ali.

The parties shared a 33-32 split in the outgoing 65-seat National Assembly.

Polls opened at 6:00 am (1000 GMT) under the watchful eyes of observers from the Organization of American States, the European Union, and the Caribbean Community (CARICOM).

People began forming lines outside the Diamond Secondary School in East Bank Demerara, about 10 miles south of the capital, Georgetown, two hours before polls opened. 

"We started the process here peaceful," PPP prime ministerial candidate Mark Phillips told AFP.

"The polling agents and all the staff here seem to have their work laid out and the process was smooth," he said.

In Georgetown, party workers went through the streets calling aloud for people to wake up and vote early.

Located on the northeastern tip of South America and one of the continent's poorest countries, a coming oil boom is set to transform Guyana after ExxonMobil in December began commercial exploitation of a huge 2016 discovery off the coast. 

The IMF expects the economy to record the biggest growth worldwide this year, a staggering 85 percent.

Oil production is currently around 52,000 barrels per day but is expected to grow to 750,000 bpd from 2025.

The former British colony -- bordered by Brazil, Venezuela and Suriname -- has a population of around 750,000, though lawmakers believe that one-third or more have emigrated to North America and the Caribbean. 

The 65 members of Guyana's National Assembly are elected using closed list proportional representation, with voters selecting parties rather than individual candidates. 

The leader of the single party or coalition that emerges with the most seats becomes president.

Results are not expected before Friday, as many of the more than 2,000 polling stations are in remote locations in territory dominated by forests, mountains and rivers.