The constitution provides for free elections, a secret ballot, and universal suffrage for citizens over the age of eighteen. Voting for the National Assembly is indirect, with voters casting ballots for lists of candidates rather than for individuals. Seats are then apportioned by an Elections Commission on the basis of the percentage each list receives. There is no minimum percentage required for a party to win a seat in the assembly. National elections must be held if the executive president dissolves the National Assembly or no more than five years after a new assembly has been elected. However, the constitution of 1980 allows the executive president to postpone national elections in one-year increments for up to five years.
Despite constitutional guarantees of fair elections, every election since the early 1960s has been tainted by charges of fraud. The most blatant alleged abuse has concerned the votes of expatriate Guyanese. The electoral system allows overseas Guyanese to vote. The number of overseas Guyanese has been said to be inflated, however, and returns have always heavily favored the PNC. Voting districts have been gerrymandered, and the army frequently has been accused of tampering with ballot boxes and breaking up opposition rallies.
Electoral fraud appeared to diminish during the Hoyte administration. Opposition groups continued to pressure the government to reform the electoral process. In 1991 the executive president agreed to require the use of metal ballot boxes that are less easily tampered with and to permit the Elections Commission to operate more freely. The commission was given the task of producing a new voter list, but by 1991 had failed to do so, prompting the president to declare a state of emergency and postpone national elections.
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