GECOM awaits consequential orders to determine way forward
-CCJ ruling will take precedence at next statutory meeting
-Legal Officer says new voters’ list not necessary
Preparations by the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) to conduct house-to-house registration remain halted as the elections body is awaiting the Caribbean Court of Justice’s (CCJ’s) consequential orders which will give an indication on the way forward.
This is according to GECOM’s Public Relations Officer (PRO), Yolanda Ward, who in a telephone interview with Guyana Times on Sunday, explained that the Commission is slated to have its statutory meeting this week where the CCJ ruling will take precedence.
This meeting will come on the heels of both the Government and the Opposition submitting to the CCJ, their conditions and proposals as to how and when Guyana should forge ahead so as to have free and fair elections held as soon as possible.
Earlier this month, the house-to-house registration exercise came to a halt and Ward had explained that this delay did not necessarily mean that GECOM would have put aside the house-to-house registration process.
“I think what had initially happened was that the anticipated timeline to commence the field exercise was scheduled for June 1 . That was what we were looking at tentatively. So, that did not happen but house-to-house registration is still on, just that it will start at a later time than anticipated,” she had said.
At that time, according to Ward, this process was expected to last for an average of three months.
“The exercise will commence sometime later this month. I do not have a definitive date as yet. The Commission is deliberating on a day to start the process.”
Prior to the CCJ’s ruling on June 18 last, the elections body was standing firm by its belief that the exercise is mandatory before the next General and Regional Elections are held.
In May, after the statutory meeting, Government-nominated Commissioner Charles Corbin had disclosed that there were some procurement issues at the election secretariat which by extension would delay the process.
Nevertheless, Ward had previously told Guyana Times that the training of staff required for the exercise has been completed and they are now in the process of tidying up placements.
GECOM had planned to forge ahead with house-to-house registration, even when the country had been awaiting a ruling from the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) on the December 2018 passage of the Opposition’s No-Confidence Motion.
On the other hand, GECOM’s legal officer, Excellence Dazzell had contended that house-to-house registration is not necessary and advised that another less time-consuming process be utilised in accordance with the law to update the list.
She recommended that the electoral commission advise Chief Elections Office, Keith Lowenfield to set the machinery in place to extend the life of the voters’ list and as such did not see the need for a new voters’ list. But the lawyer’s advice was set aside by GECOM.
CCJ validated passage of Opposition’s No-Confidence Motion against Gov’t
On June 18, 2019, the CCJ threw out Government’s arguments and ruled that the No-Confidence Motion that toppled it on December 21, 2018, was indeed validly passed.
Handing down the decision was CCJ President, Justice Adrian Saunders, who read a summary of the final judgement. Justice Saunders said that the court found that 33, and not 34 as the Government and supporters have argued, was the majority the Opposition needed out of 65 Members of Parliament (MPs) to pass the Motion.
“The CCJ decided that the requirement for “a majority of all the elected members of the National Assembly”, referred to a majority of the total number of votes or seats in the Assembly, irrespective of the number of members who actually vote.
In determining that majority, he added, the court was of the opinion that the “half plus one rule was not applicable”. Justice Saunders informed the courtroom and viewing public that the majority was clearly at least 33 votes.
The CCJ also rejected arguments that former Alliance For Change (AFC) MP Charrandas Persaud was constrained from voting against his list, a major plank of the State’s case. Justice Saunders noted that nothing in the Constitution prevents a crossover vote and as such, his vote was and still is valid. The No-Confidence Motion, the CCJ decided, was validly passed.
Meanwhile, Justice Saunders informed that CCJ Judge Maureen Ragnauth-Lee had made the observation in her concurring judgement that the Constitution has to be clear regarding Persaud being prevented from voting against his list. She did not believe, as the Government argued, that such a provision was implicit.
On the matter of Persaud’s dual citizenship, Justice Saunders noted that the court had decided that had the Government really wanted Persaud out of the National Assembly on those grounds, it would have challenged his presence on the candidate list and eligibility to enter the National Assembly long before the vote – in fact, within a month of the coalition’s victory in 2015.
President gives mixed reactions about CCJ’s ruling
Meanwhile, President David Granger, in a public address soon after the announcement from the CCJ, claimed to respect the ruling. On the other hand, Granger went back to the position that house-to-house registration was still necessary, even though the activity would push elections back until after November 2019 and was advised against by GECOM’s own legal adviser.
“The Chairman of the Guyana Elections Commission, Justice Patterson, has previously informed me that the Commission will be ready to hold elections in November 2019. This will be after the completion of house-to-house registration. I now await a recommendation for a specific date from GECOM and I will then issue a proclamation,” Granger said.
The list of electors, which was used as recently as the last Local Government Elections last year, only expired April month-end. Further, legal arguments are that a simple and less time-consuming Claims and Objections process can be embarked upon to update the list to ensure persons eligible to vote are registered. This was, however, ignored by the President in his address.
Now that the motion has been validated, Article 106 (6) which states, “The Cabinet including the President shall resign if the Government is defeated by the vote of a majority of all the elected members of the National Assembly on a vote of confidence” should take effect, something which Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo has been calling for since the passage of the Motion on December 21, 2018.