If the political atmosphere were not tense enough with the PNC-led Government resorting to the Appellate Courts to question the Legislative and High Court’s determination that 33 is the majority of 65, and consequently the NCM was valid, and that in accordance with Art 106 (6) of the Constitution, the President and Cabinet “shall” resign immediately and elections be scheduled within 90 days, the differing opinions by the Opposition and the Government on the significance of the issuance of two letters by the President to GECOM on the same day has only served to escalate the tensions.
The Opposition Leader viewed the two letters as an attempt by the President to commit “fraud” on the Guyanese people, since the letters had different implications for the holding of elections as constitutionally mandated by Art 106 (6). The first letter stated, “The Government is committed to doing everything possible to ensure that the Commission is provided with the financial resources and has sufficient time to conduct credible elections.
“I urge the Commission, therefore, to commence preparations for the conduct of GRE (General and Regional Elections). The Government will initiate measures to provide the funds required and to seek the approval of the National Assembly to ensure that an agreement can be reached, given both the Constitutional requirements and GECOM’s capability.” These “Constitutional requirements” were also spelled out in this letter: “…to deliver credible General and Regional Elections (GRE) within the three-month time frame commencing 2018.12.21.”
This letter is therefore very clear in its import: the Chairman of GECOM had indicated to the President that elections were due “three months (from) 2018.12.21”, i.e. March 19, 2019; and the President, who has the authority and duty to do so, had asked that preparations for GRE commence immediately.
The second letter, however, spoke to a totally different issue: that GECOM was now evidently being given the responsibility for setting the GRE’s date: “I have noted also, that GECOM, as a Constitutional agency would require a new appropriation of funds approved by the National Assembly for the conduct of General and Regional Elections. I now write you in that context for us to initiate consultations on the readiness of GECOM for the conduct of General and Regional Elections in 2019 (GRE).”
This shift in responsibility is what the Leader of the Opposition alluded to when he spoke of fraud. Since, for instance, the GECOM Chair accepted that the clock on the GRE date started ticking from Dec 21, 2018, why did he not then throw the machinery of the institution to meet the March 19 deadline, or at most a month afterwards, knowing that the validity of the voters’ list expired on April 31? For him to now express “doubts” on GECOM’s readiness a mere three weeks before that date, after the Government GECOM Commissioners had been strenuously insisting on a new “house to house” registration to create a new voters’ list and to have the President upturning his firm instructions for elections preparation within hours to “initiate consultations” on GECOM’s readiness, does lead the law’s famous “reasonable man” to conclude that “mischief was afoot”.
The Government’s spokesperson indignantly responded to the Opposition Leader’s assertion on “fraud” by raising a “straw man” to claim essentially that President Granger was a church-going Christian and, as such, incapable of lying; and that the Opposition leader was in fact so maligning all Christians. But by then the issue had moved from the surmise by the Opposition Leader to the world of facts. At a meeting of GECOM, only upon inquiry by the PPP Commissioners was the existence of two letters from the President acknowledged.
The PNC Commissioners then proceeded to give life to the opening offered in the President’s second letter by insisting that only the matter of a new voters’ list should be on the agenda. The PPP Commissioners not unreasonably wanted to know why the date for the elections should not be directly addressed.
That meeting then broke up with March 19th looming ominously.