With the clock ticking, the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) has not yet made a decision with regards to the holding of elections or any other matters, even after the Chairperson, Justice Claudette Singh, had her first meeting with the six commissioners since her appointment last month.
The new GECOM Chair met with both Opposition and Government-nominated commissioners for the first time on Thursday, but no decisions surfaced regarding the next course of action with respect to House-to-House Registration.
The meeting reportedly lasted a few hours, after which PPP Commissioner Bibi Shadick told the media that the Commission’s “businesses” was discussed. She stated that the matters will be addressed once the Chief Justice’s ruling is submitted in written form.
“We have a new Chairperson…we have a new dispensation. There were no decisions taken today. We didn’t have benefit of the Chief Justice’s decision as yet. It has to be given out when it is completed,” Shadick told media operatives.
Meanwhile, PNC’s Commissioner Vincent Alexander stated that provision of the Chief Justice’s decision will determine when discussions will reconvene. This second engagement will materialise possibly before Tuesday.
“The question on the way forward in some regards was not determined in the main because we’re still no recipients of the written decision of the Judge. There are those of us who would prefer not to rely on reports and third-hand information. What we have agreed is that we will await that decision and convene shortly after, hopefully before Tuesday to discuss the way forward,” he said.
On Wednesday, Chief Justice Roxane George ruled that the ongoing House-to-House Registration is not unconstitutional, but noted that it is unconstitutional for qualified persons to be removed from the list.
At the High Court, the Chief Justice did not grant any of the orders sought by Christopher Ram, who had challenged the constitutionality of the House-to-House Registration and wanted the court to compel the holding General and Regional Elections by September 18.
In her ruling, Justice George concluded that the House-to-House exercise being conducted is not unlawful or unconstitutional. However, the Court did note that it is unconstitutional for qualified persons to be removed from the list if they are not in the jurisdiction or not at their residence during the registration exercise. She further stated that only deceased persons and those otherwise disqualified under Article 159 (2) (3) or (4) are to be removed.
Pointing out that the “right to vote and the right to be registered to vote are sacrosanct”, the High Court Judge said “residence requirements from citizens are no longer a qualification for registration”.
Ram’s lawyers, who included former Attorney General Anil Nandlall and Senior Counsel Ralph Ramkarran, had argued in the application that the current registration exercise will disenfranchise many Guyanese who are already on the list.
Furthermore, the Chief Justice had noted that while it is not up to the court to determine whether House-to-House should be held, it is not the only option available to the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) to update the list. To this end, the Court further noted that it is up to the Elections Commission to determine a way forward within the confines of the constitutional provisions.
“The Court did not agree with submissions from the CEO (Chief Elections Officer Keith Lowenfield) that House-to-House is necessary… GECOM may have to consider other options… GECOM cannot operation as in a normal elections cycle,” she said, adding that it has to take into consideration the December passage of the No-Confidence Motion (NCM) which has been validated by the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ).
In fact, both Nandlall and SC Ramkarran told reporters after the decision that this aspect of the judgement is significant since it means that House-to-House is not mandatory and more importantly, not the only option for GECOM to revised the voters’ list.
“The Court pointed out very emphatically and very clearly that GECOM must now determine which one of the two courses of action it will chose, having regards to the timeframe that are available and that have become exigent upon the passage of a No-Confidence Motion. The Court endorsed our argument that the list can be refreshed with a suitable Claims and Objections period so the ball is now in GECOM’s court to determine which one of the two courses it will chose, and one will obviously lead to unconstitutionality as the CJ pointed out,” Nandlall contended.