APNU/AFC confident ahead of High Court ruling on election petition
The A Partnership for National Unity/Alliance For Change (APNU/AFC) Opposition is anxiously awaiting the High Court ruling on its only election petition left standing.
Chief Justice Roxane George is expected to deliver her decision on April 26 and according to Leader of the Opposition, Joseph Harmon, they are confident that the ruling will be in the coalition’s favour.
“We are expecting anxiously a decision of the court… We remain extremely confident that the court will find that the March 2, 2020 General and Regional Elections were not conducted in accordance with the law and the consequences which will flow as a result of that,” Harmon said during a press conference on Friday.
Chief Justice Roxane George last week wrapped up arguments in the election petition filed by Claudette Thorne and Heston Bostwick, who are claiming that Order 60 of 2020, otherwise known as the recount order, is invalid, null, void, and of no effect.
However, lawyers for the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) and then Leader of the Opposition Bharrat Jagdeo [now Vice President] as well as Attorney General Senior Counsel Anil Nandlall, are maintaining that there is nothing unconstitutional about Order 60 and Section 22 of the Election Laws (Amendment) Act.
Order 60 was created pursuant to Section 22 of the Elections Laws (Amendment) Act and Article 162 of the Constitution of Guyana to resolve irregularities, anomalies, and discrepancies coming out of the March 2020 General and Regional Elections and to determine a final credible count before declaring the results of the elections which are required by the Representation of the People Act and the Constitution.
GECOM’s lawyer, Dominican Senior Counsel Anthony Astaphan, had asked the High Court to throw out the petition, insisting that it did nothing wrong by conducting the National Recount using Order 60 given the “difficulties” GECOM was experiencing in finalising the elections results.
“In the face of these difficulties, what was GECOM to do? What should GECOM have done with the intransigence of the Returning Officer and the Chief Election Officer, and the difficulty to get cooperation for resolution of the matter. GECOM… was literally, by the Constitution and Statute, obliged to act otherwise chaos would have resulted,” Astaphan argued during the April 7 hearing.
He added, “Our primary case, My Lady… is that there is no breach [of the Constitution] …We stand by our written submissions, fully and absolutely, that there was no breach… We’re not conceding any breach at all.”
The Dominican Senior Counsel went on to reject the claim by the petitioners’ lawyer, Trinidadian Senior Counsel John Jeremie, that there were no guidelines under Sections 22 and 162 for the recount to be conducted.
He argued that “GECOM could only possibly act under [Section] 22 if there was a difficulty being experienced in the course of the election which includes, of course, the count and the recount, and the request for recount. If there was intransigence on behalf of election officers or otherwise that creates a difficulty for the final declaration to be made, under Section 22, GECOM literally has a mandatory obligation to act, cause it says “shall”, if these things appear to it as necessary or expedient for it to remove the difficulty.”
Moreover, Astaphan pointed out that Section 162 (1), foresaw the possibilities of intransigence, misconduct and disobedience from public officers or persons performing elections duties that would prevent either compliance or would prevent the final process of the election to be declared.
The Dominican Senior Counsel further maintained that if these provisions did not exist then GECOM could not have acted in the manner it did but since they do exist, the Commission had a “constitutional obligation” to act.
However, the petitioners are asking the High Court to vitiate the results of the election, which saw the PPP/C winning office, arguing that it was substantially not in compliance with the law in relation to the conduct of the elections.
The Chief Justice will hand down her ruling in the case on Monday, April 26, 2021, at 11:00 am.
Harmon reiterated on Friday that his party is confident of the outcome.
“We are ready for Government,” he posited.
Meanwhile, regarding the appeal of the coalition’s other election petition 99, which was thrown out by the High Court for late service, the matter came up for case management on April 12 and timelines were fixed for the filing of submissions. The hearing will commence on June 14 at the Court of Appeal.