On December 21st, 2018 the successful passage of the historic no-confidence motion (NCM) brought by the Opposition PPP against the PNC-led coalition government triggered the compulsory holding of national and regional elections to determine a new government, in accordance with the mandate given by Art 106 (6) (7) of the Constitution, the highest law of the land. As such, it also became necessary for the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) to make preparations for such elections, in accordance with its mandate.
The government sadly, backtracked on its initial acceptance of the consequences of the NCM and took recourse to the courts; a move the Opposition immediately labelled as a delaying tactic to allow them to remain in office beyond the Constitutionally stipulated three months. In order to avoid a constitutional crisis brought on by the intransigence of the PNC-led government, the Leader of the Opposition met with President David Granger to discuss a way forward. One agreement reached was that without any prejudice, the Chief Whips of the two parties would meet with GECOM to discuss the modalities of holding elections in three months.
To its credit, the High Court accepted the urgency of the cases brought before it and declared it would issue a judgement on each of the four limbs the government had cited in its delaying maneuvers, by January 31st. This would then remove the legal impediment in the way of executing Art 106. But it was not a coincidence that GECOM did not follow the lead of the Courts to expeditiously address the matter of its readiness for holding elections within the three months deadline.
The CEO of GECOM asserted he could not meet with the two Whips unless and until instructed to do so by the GECOM Chairman. This 85-year old gentleman, who had been unilaterally appointed to his position by President Granger as “fit and proper”, had not been on the job for weeks and announced he would not be available until late in January.
In the meantime, one would have thought if the CEO, who actually does not need permission to meet with anyone since he is in charge of the GECOM Secretariat, which actually conducts elections, would have set into motion the process by which all the different aspects of the exercise would have been placed on a timeline.
After all, GECOM had been conducting local and general elections since 1992 and would have created templates on which the new variable of time would be inserted. But when the Chairman finally showed up for work more than a month after the no-confidence motion was transmuted into a binding resolution, the CEO refused to issue any timelines. The meeting became mired in an acrimonious back and forting between the Government and Opposition Commissioners over what was and was not possible for elections by end March 2019.
This Gordian knot, created by the Government in its desperate rearguard move to stave off elections, could easily have been resolved by the GECOM CEO, with a statement of what exactly was the situation in terms of GECOM preparedness, which had always been premised as a process that was continuously in motion. One Opposition Commissioner, however, had elaborated on accelerated timelines for such facets as claims and objections to cull persons who had expired along with a new registration process to capture new voters, and had demonstrated that the end March deadline could still be met. A priori, however, the government Commissioners denied these contingencies and insisted that since the present list of voters would expire in April 2019, a completely new “house to house” registration process was demanded.
At this juncture of the impasse, the Chairman could have placed the matter to a vote in which he would have had to exercise his casting vote, but he refused to do so and abruptly concluded the meeting. So the institution that was created to ensure the procedural aspect of democracy be complied with, has now worked to deny it.