Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) Chairman, retired Justice James Patterson, has had his medical leave extended, even as the three-month deadline mandated by the Constitution for elections after a successful no-confidence vote approaches and preparations are at a standstill.
Patterson, who is recovering after being hospitalised last month, was expected to return to GECOM on Tuesday to host a statutory meeting. On Tuesday, the Commission revealed that Patterson did not return as scheduled and in fact received an extension of his medical leave.
According to a statement, Patterson is recovering but has been advised by his doctors to take additional rest to ensure full recovery. The statement added that, “the Chairman will provide further updates on his resumption.”
Contacted on Tuesday, GECOM Public Relations Officer Yolanda Ward revealed that the statutory meeting will be postponed until Patterson returns. She also said that GECOM has to wait on the executive before beginning its election preparations.
“There’s a procedure to be followed for GECOM to conduct an election. First of all, the executive arm needs to write to GECOM indicating a date for election. So when the letter comes to the Chairman that is deliberated at the level of the Commission to say, well we agree, this is the time we can work with and this is the time we cannot work with.”
“Based on that confirmation and that deliberation, that is where GECOM kicks in to say elections will be held in this time and we need to roll out our operations,” Ward further explained.
She noted that since they have gotten word or have not been written to by the Executive, in the current circumstances, legal proceedings have in fact been filed by the Government against the no-confidence vote.
Meanwhile, there are reports that Patterson’s leave has been extended by two weeks. His absence comes at a time when Government, having fallen to a no-confidence vote on December 21, 2018, has to call elections within 90 days from that date.
The No-confidence Motion brought by the parliamentary Opposition – the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) – against the Government succeeded when Charrandas Persaud, a former Alliance For Change (AFC) parliamentarian, broke rank and made a conscience vote in favour of the motion.
A total of 10 MPs had previously debated the motion, but when a vote of division was called, Persaud’s vote changed the numbers to 33 versus his colleagues’ 32 votes against the motion.
While Persaud’s former coalition colleagues have complained about being betrayed by the vote, the parliamentary Opposition has thrown its support behind the MP’s right to vote in whichever direction his conscience lead him. Persaud has since left the country.
With the Government’s defeat, the next steps are spelt out in the Constitution of Guyana. Article 106 (6) of the Constitution 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.”
Meanwhile, clause 7 goes on to state that “Notwithstanding its defeat, the Government shall remain in office and shall hold an election within three months, or such longer period as the National Assembly shall by resolution supported by not less than two-thirds of the votes of all the elected members of the National Assembly determine, and shall resign after the President takes the oath of office following the election.”
Government has gone from promising to respect the vote to denying the vote’s validity on grounds that include an argument that 34 should have been a majority vote in 65. A court case has been filed seeking, among other things, a stay of the elections pending a ruling.
Meanwhile, a meeting has been scheduled between President David Granger and Leader of the Opposition Bharrat Jagdeo for today. One of the issues expected to be raised is GECOM and its readiness for elections.
Jagdeo has already warned that if elections are not facilitated within 90 days and there is no parliamentary agreement to extend this time, Guyana will have in place an unconstitutional Government.