The Amerindian vote

Stabroek News
March 22, 2000

In the last official census carried out in l99l the ethnic breakdown of the population is shown as follows: African 32.7%, up from 30.5% in l980, East Indian 48.4%, down from 5l.4% in l980; Amerindians 6.3%, up from 5.3% in l980; Portuguese 0.3%, down from 0.4% in l980; Chinese 0.2%, same in l980; Mixed race l2.2%, up from ll.0% in l980, and White and others less than .l%. The population as a whole fell from 758,6l9 in l980 to 7l8,406 in l99l. The East Indian population suffered a negative annual growth rate of l.05%. The Whites, Chinese and Portuguese had a higher rate of decline but these were numerically insignificant groups.

The census takers refer to a declining birth rate which they say was first exhibited in the late l970's and increased in the eighties. It affected Indians and Africans but the decline in the 0-l4 age group was more severe for the Indians (about 2.5%) compared to the Africans (about 0.4%). "Since there is nothing to suggest that the mortality of the East Indian Group was higher than that of the other ethnic groups during the intercensal period, the absolute numerical decrease and negative annual growth must necessarily be explained in terms of possible higher emigration and lower birth rates of this group", the report said.

No one can say with great confidence what has happened since l99l. The Household Income and Expenditure Survey which represented the position as at 30th November l992 and was based on 7259 sample households showed an estimated total population of 7l7,458. A Living Conditions Survey has recently been carried out by the Bureau of Statistics but the results are not available. Preliminary reports suggest that the Indian population has been static, the African population is down substantially, the Mixed population up substantially and the Amerindian population static. Perhaps there has been some degree of re-classification of the mixed category which must always have been somewhat nebulous and discretionary. The population as a whole has reportedly hardly increased.

Anecdotal evidence had suggested that the rate of Indian emigration may still be higher. It had also been said that the Amerindian birth rate had continued to be high, and that group is hardly affected by emigration. It would be surprising, therefore, if the Amerindian population has not increased to say 7% of the total population.

But even at 6.3% the Amerindians are in fact a crucial swing vote in any election and could hold the key to the result. Put it another way, if there were an Amerindian party or a party that captured most of the Amerindian vote they could well be kingmakers, like Mr. A.N.R. Robinson and his party were in the last elections in Trinidad. If ethnic voting patterns prevail, as most analysts expect, no party is likely to capture a majority without getting some of the Amerindian vote. In the sixties when Mr. Peter d'Aguiar led the United Force and Mr. Stephen Campbell, an Amerindian, was a UF member of parliament the United Force got a large part of the Amerindian vote. Now, that vote is more widely dispersed, as is clear from the last election.

The situation is in theory open, therefore, for a party to be formed which would place particular emphasis on the concerns of Amerindians. Such a party, if successful in attracting a substantial part of the Amerindian vote, could play a role in the coming elections and the formation of the next government.