GEORGETOWN (Reuters) – Former Guyanese housing minister Irfaan Ali was sworn in as president of the newly oil-producing South American country on Sunday, after he was declared winner of a disputed March 2 election following a recount.
Preliminary recount data released in June showed Ali, a member of the opposition People’s Progressive Party (PPP), had won the initial poll, and Washington last month called on current President David Granger to resign.
The final result comes months after a consortium led by Exxon Mobil Corp began producing oil off Guyana’s coast, turning the impoverished country of fewer than 800,000 people into the world’s newest crude hot spot and promising to boost growth in the agriculture- and mining-dependent economy.
But the looming oil boom also raised the stakes of the country’s ethnically divided politics, with Indo-Guyanese, who primarily support the PPP, and Afro-Guyanese, who largely support Granger’s APNU-AFC coalition.
“There is only one future, and that future requires a united Guyana,” Ali said. “That future requires every Guyanese to play a part in building our country.”
The PPP has criticized the contract Granger’s government signed with Exxon – which includes a 2% royalty and a 50% profit share after cost recovery – as too generous, but Ali has stopped short of pledging to renegotiate the terms of the deal.
Exxon and Granger’s allies both say the terms are comparable to other frontier oil producers.
Granger declared victory days after the March vote, but the opposition said results from the largest voting district had been inflated to put Granger ahead of Ali and the country’s top court found the district had not counted votes in accordance with electoral laws.
(Reporting by Neil Marks in Georgetown and Luc Cohen in New York; editing by Richard Pullin)