Guyana breaks tradition

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Voters in Guyana went to the polls yesterday, with a white woman born in the United States tipped to emerge as the country's president.

In South America's only English-speaking nation, politics has little to do with ideology and a lot to do with ethnic origins. The country is split between immigrants from the Indian sub-continent and those of African origin, descendants of those brought over in British colonial days. Strange, then, that the winner of the presidential ballot is likely to be an elderly Jewish woman from Chicago.

Janet Jagan, 76, an avowed but mellowed Marxist, seems set for the presidential palace as candidate of the ruling People's Progressive Party (PPP). In fact, she has not been out of the palace for long because she is the widow of Cheddi Jagan, the PPP's long-time leader who died in office in March this year.

Mrs Jagan has been a citizen of Guyana, known as British Guyana until it became independent in 1966, for three decades. She met her husband in the US during the Second World War when he was a dental student. That makes her something of an honorary member of the Indian community, which the PPP, founded by Mr Jagan, traditionally represents.

Polls suggest that she will defeat Desmond Hoyte, 68, the candidate of the opposition People's National Congress (PNC), whose powerbase is the community of African descent.

Mrs Jagan appears to have been put forward to unite the PPP under her husband's name, and it is believed that after winning the election she couldhand over to a younger successor, widely tipped to be Barrath Jagdeo, now finance minister.