The People's Progressive Party is a political party in Guyana which has governed continuously since 1992. Its publication is Thunder and its General Secretary is Donald Ramotar. In the August 2006 parliamentary election, the PPP won 54.6 percent of the vote and 36 of 65 seats, gaining two seats since the March 2001 election.
The PPP was founded on January 1, 1950, with Cheddi Jagan as Leader, Forbes Burnham as Chairman, and Janet Jagan as Secretary. The party held its First Congress on April 1, 1951. Its Third Congress, at which Burnham unsuccessfully sought to become party leader, was held in March 1953. With the crucial support of organized labor, it emerged victorious in the legislative election of April 1953, and Jagan became Chief Minister. After the new government attempted to modernize the colony's labor laws, British Governor Sir Alfred Savage sacked the government just months after it took office, supposedly due to Communist infiltration, and outlawed the PPP youth wing.
Guyanese politics then split along ethnic lines when supporters of Burnham, the PPP's Afro-Guyanese Chairman, broke away and formed the People's National Congress (PNC) in 1957. This left the original party dependent on the support of demographically superior Indo-Guyanese and more radical elements of the political spectrum. Despite this setback, the PPP carried the August 1961 election with a strong majority.
Convinced that Jagan was a Communist who planned to instate a totalitarian dictatorship, the colonial authorities with assistance from the Central Intelligence Agency aided a campaign by conservatives and Burnham loyalists to discredit the PPP government. Riots ensued, with the hope of drawing a draconian crackdown from the chief minister. In 1964, the PPP again won an election in terms of percentage and total votes; however, Governor Sir Richard Luyt went against parliamentary tradition and invited the PNC in coalition with a small, white-supported conservative party to form the government instead of Jagan.
Independence on 26 May 1966 did not bring needed political stability to Guyana. The political scene became increasingly polarized by ethnicity, and in early 1970 the Burnham government declared a republic organized on socialist, non-aligned principles. This action co-opted much of the PPP's program, and, indeed, the PPP eventually extended limited support to the ruling party on the basis of appeals to patriotism and national unity. The controversy over this move led to the emergence of a ‘third force,’ the Working People's Alliance (WPA) of Walter Rodney, in 1979. All three major parties drew to different extents from Marxist thought, making the racial divide even more pronounced.
A series of allegedly fraudulent elections boycotted by many oppositionists led to the deepening of the PNC's bureaucratic hold on the government and civil service, and some even accused Burnham of ruling as a dictator. The PPP only operated in relative safety after Burnham's death during a medical procedure in 1985. A political ‘opening’ was initiated by PNC President Desmond Hoyte, and a free election won by Jagan's PPP was held in 1992. A political deradicalization occurred as the PPP, PNC, and WPA evolved into social democratic organizations as opposed to Marxist ones. President Jagan reassured the United States with his newfound commitment to free-market economics, although the PPP remained close to the trade unions.
Cheddi Jagan died in office in 1997, and a new presidential election was carried by his wife, Janet Jagan. Janet Jagan became the first American-born (her citizenship was revoked in 1947) female head of state in world history, but her term was cut short by poor health. In 1999, she handed power over to the newly-appointed Indo-Guyanese Prime Minister Bharrat Jagdeo.
A major scandal erupted in 2004 when farmer George Bacchus announced that he had evidence implicating the PPP Minister for Home Affairs, Ronald Gajraj, in the operation of ‘phantom death squads’ that killed up to four hundred people, including the brother of George Bacchus. President Jagdeo quickly dismissed the allegations, although the PNC continued to push for a thorough investigation. Bacchus himself was assassinated on 24 June 2004, leading to further outrage and allegations of a cover-up.
- History of the PPP, PPP website.
- "Congress endorsed position of a people’s Party – President Jagdeo", GINA, 3 August 2005.
- "Donald Ramotar re-elected General Secretary of PPP", Guyana Times, August 13, 2008.