Highly contested national elections held in 2001 resulted in widespread violence in the Guyanese capital of Georgetown and the surrounding countryside, in a sequence of events almost identical what had followed contests in 1997 and 1992.1 Although escalation into armed conflict was avoided in those instances, the crises highlighted the fragility of the Guyanese state and its vulnerability to election violence. Such concerns only grew when post-election analysis of the events of 2001 warned of an ‘increase in violence’ and ‘heightened acrimony’ compared with previous contests.2 The efforts of the Commonwealth to facilitate a dialogue between the two main political parties in Guyana collapsed in 2002, leading the opposition to boycott Parliament. The ongoing unrest culminated in July 2002 with an attack on the presidential building in which two people were killed.3 In response, a range of international organisations began operating with the shared goal of reducing the likelihood of similar violence during the next election cycle and ultimately preventing an armed conflict from erupting in Guyana.
Beginning in 2003, the UN Development Program implemented the Social Cohesion Program in collaboration with a range of other multilateral organisations and the Guyanese government. The objective was to build social cohesion, enhance security, and make progress with constitutional reform. This entailed efforts to promote dialogue by establishing Multi-Stakeholder Forums, as well as initiatives to build Guyanese capacity to manage conflict through the provision of training to police and civil society groups. In addition, the Program sponsored research and discussion on the subject of armed conflict among Guyanese academics, the media, and youth.4 Further efforts were implemented by the British Government, which focused on the judiciary.5 When the time came for the 2006 elections to be held, coordinated election observation missions from the Organisation of American States, Carter Center, and the Commonwealth were well prepared. In addition to their usual duties regarding the electoral process itself, these observers also spent weeks meeting with a host of influential figures from across Guyanese society prior to the contest, playing an important role in ensuring that all stakeholders were prepared to support a peaceful election. On election day, observers deployed at polling stations across the country were able to verify the integrity of the electoral process, thus reassuring Guyanese society that the result was genuine.6 These efforts helped to prevent armed conflict in Guyana and served to help stabilise the fragile democratic process in the country.