The 39-year-old economist Irfaan Ali Saturday night pledged to lead Guyana to a strong, resilient and diversified economy built on oil revenues and the traditional sectors if the PPP is returned to the seat of government after Monday’s general and regional elections.
At a massive rally at Lusignan, East Coast Demerara, Ali urged supporters to ensure that they vote on March 02 and give the PPP a “resounding” victory.
The PPP enjoyed the seat of government comfortably from 1992 and the three elections after. But it lost support of sugar workers in Berbice and rice farmers in Essequibo to the AFC, and lost control of the Parliament in 2011. Then in in 2015, the AFC joined with the five-party bloc APNU and together they won the seat of government, beating out the PPP by just 4, 506 votes.
With the closure of four sugar estates and unfulfilled favourable prices for paddy, the PPP is certain it has won back support in its traditional bases and can win back power, but it is anxious for the results not to be close. It wants to once more dominate the National Assembly and push through its programmes comfortably.
Ali welcomed back those who “made a mistake in 2015” and said they were joining the journey of hope.
Ali started off his public service career in the Ministry of Finance and then rose to become a minister and helped lead the PPP government’s flagship housing programme, setting up multiple housing schemes in various areas across the country, giving tens of thousands of Guyanese house lots.
Ali was chosen by his party to lead it in these elections after the PPP engineered a successful No Confidence motion on December 21, 2018 and dislodged the Coalition after just three and a half years in power.
Elections should have been held three months after the passage of the motion, but multiple court cases dragged out the time until a final ruling by the Caribbean Court of Justice on June 18 last year. After further delay, the President announced March 02 as the elections date to elect candidates for the 65-seat National Assembly and the ten Regional Democratic Councils.
“The journey has been long. You have weathered the storm, you are now close to shore, let us drop the anchor!” Ali told the crowd at Lusignan, stirring the crowd.
“And you know when I drop anchor it solid like tail!” he quipped in local parlance, an obvious reference to his weight which has been a subject of those who ridicule his candidacy.
Ali was chosen as the PPP’s presidential candidate just a month after the No Confidence vote.
The elections are being held on the heels of the start of oil production, with the country due to sell five million barrels of oil this year; this is aside from the allotments to the developer ExxonMobil and its partners.
The contract with ExxonMobil and its partners come with a 2% royalty and a 50/50 profit share, but PPP General Secretary Bharrat Jagdeo pledged that the contract will be re-negotiated to achieve better terms for Guyana.
“They sold us out on the oil and gas sector. They’re afraid of being asked any question…we lost at least 15 million Guyana dollars for every woman, man and child.
“…so the only party that will correct this, the only party that will fix this contract and bring back the benefit to all Guyanese is the People’s Progressive Party,” Jagdeo stated.
“So next week when Irfaan Ali is the President, the oil companies will have to come back and talk about a fairer deal for Guyanese and those who did wrong things, they will have to pay the penalty too,” Jagdeo declared.
Whatever happens, the petroleum sector will dominate this country’s economy from now on and Ali campaigned on that certainty.
“Today with the spread of our economy, we will need engineers in the oil and gas sector, we will need managers in the oil and gas sector, we will need agro-chemical engineers, we will the technical skills to manage the downstream industry,” Ali stated.
Ali repeated early promises on his final rally platform, which included: 50,000 new jobs; 50,000 house lots; 20,000 online scholarships; increase in Old Age Pension to $40,000.
And he said there will be no Indo-Guyanese, Afro-Guyanese or Amerindian line for those jobs and houselots – just a Guyanese line.
He stressed that the PPP will invest in its long-touted Amaila Falls Hydro Project to generate 400 megawatts of electricity and will invest in bolstering the traditional sectors of ensure an economy that is strong, diversified, and resilient and is one that works for the people of the country.
Irfaan Ali was born at Leonora, West Coast Demerara to educators and spent part of his early life on the Essequibo island of Leguan.