Court ruling sends Guyana to new elections, as first oil output looms

President David Granger of Guyana addresses the 71st United Nations General Assembly in Manhattan, New York, U.S. September 20, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Segar

GEORGETOWN (Reuters) - A regional court on Tuesday upheld the Guyanese Parliament’s December no-confidence vote in the government, meaning the South American country will face new elections just as its nascent oil industry appears set to transform the economy.

President David Granger challenged the surprise vote, which came after one member of the ruling coalition unexpectedly sided with the opposition on the motion, in court. But after several appeals, the Trinidad-based Caribbean Court of Justice upheld the no-confidence vote.

Guyana’s constitution calls for elections to be called within three months of a no-confidence vote, unless Parliament extends the deadline.

That means the vote would likely come before first oil production, which is expected for early 2020. Exxon Mobil has announced 13 oil discoveries off the small country’s coast, containing more than 5.5 billion barrels of recoverable oil and gas.

In an address to the nation on Tuesday, Granger said the vote would be held in late November to give the country’s independent election body time to create a new registry of voters in the country of 750,000. Opposition leader Bharrat Jagdeo criticized that plan, saying no new registry was needed.

The opposition has accused Granger’s government of mismanaging the country’s oil resources and granting Exxon overly generous contract terms.

(This story corrects to read that independent elections body, not government, will create voter registry, in paragraph 5)

Reporting by Neil Marks; Writing by Luc Cohen; Editing by Leslie Adler