GECOM ignores constitutional fiat on NCM elections
– Jagdeo rules out Opposition support for unconstitutional November timeline
The Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) Chairman has advised the Executive that elections can be held no sooner than November 2019, earning him a sharp rebuke from the Opposition nominated Commissioners on GECOM, who condemned this position to hold elections outside of the constitutional timeframe.
A Tuesday statutory meeting abruptly broke up after it was revealed that GECOM Chairman James Patterson wrote a letter to President David Granger advising him of this, without informing them.
The three People’s Progressive Party (PPP) Commissioners called a press conference soon after the botched meeting where Commissioner Robeson Benn said the Chairman’s advocacy for elections in November is an unconstitutional position.
“We on this side naturally walked out at that point. There (are) attempts to delay the elections. Any delay of elections founded in the no-confidence vote would be unconstitutional and illegal.
He noted that despite GECOM starting its preparations and holding meetings right after the no-confidence vote, the secretariat mysteriously abandoned those preparations and subsequently frittered away the time.
“The Guyana Elections Commission, immediately after the passage of the no-confidence vote had started holding meetings in respect of the work plans for having those elections within the 90-day timeframe, was somehow forced to abandon its duties,“ the Commissioner said.
Benn, along with fellow Commissioners Sase Gunraj and Bibi Shadick, rejected the position adopted by the Chairman, on the grounds that it ignores the constitutional provision of three months to hold elections.
He also lambasted Chairman James Patterson for writing such a letter without discussing it with the Commission. As a consequence, he said GECOM is not functioning as it ought to, with the Chairman making decisions to the exclusion of the PPP Commissioners. In fact, the Commissioner expressed doubts about the authorship of the letter, noting that the writing style differs from Patterson’s.
The Commissioner also defended his side against Justice Patterson’s insinuations that the PPP Commissioners have been walking out and frustrating discussions, reiterating that the PPP will not sit and violate the Constitution.
Patterson wrote President Granger, informing him that General and Regional Elections cannot be held before late November 2019, even though GECOM is constitutionally mandated to hold elections within three months of the passage of a no-confidence motion against the Government.
In the case of Guyana, that deadline expires on Thursday. In the letter dispatched to the Head of State, the GECOM Chair explained that since the elections body is continuing with its normal work programme, that is, the holding of house-to-house registration, it will need some $3.5 billion to host elections.
Patterson also claimed that GECOM would only be able to produce a new voters list with a qualifying date of October 31, 2019. He continued by urging the President to make the required additional resources available.
In this regard, the GECOM Chairman explained that “no election date should be contemplated less than five months after these funds are placed at the disposal of and under the control of GECOM.”
“In consideration of all of the above, the fulfilment of the various conditions highlighted, the removal of the external impediments, and based on the advice I have been given by the Chief Elections Officer, I would proffer that the Commission would be in a position to conduct General and Regional Elections no earlier than late November 2019 with an official list of electors having a qualifying date of 31st October, 2019,” Patterson told Granger in the letter.
Article 106 (6) of the Guyana 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.”
106 (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.”
So far, there has been no word on when a sitting of the National Assembly will be called. Nor has the court granted a stay on the count down. When asked at a previous press conference, Minister of State Joseph Harmon had informed the media that there must be pressing issues for the National Assembly to be called. When asked if elections were not a pressing matter, he then conceded that it was.
Even if such a sitting is called, Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo made his position on the letter pellucid on his social media page on Tuesday evening. According to a post on his page, “the PPP/C will never accept the November 2019 date for the holding of elections as is being put forward by the three A Partnership for National Unity/Alliance For Change (APNU/AFC) nominated Commissioners and the unilaterally appointed Chairman,” Jagdeo stated.
Since the December 21, 2018 passage of the motion of no-confidence against the APNU/AFC coalition, calls have been made by various stakeholders including foreign diplomats here for the Government to abide by the Constitution and set a date for elections.
Recently, British High Commissioner Greg Quinn in an exclusive interview with Guyana Times reminded that the clock is ticking on the constitutional three-month deadline for holding elections. This observation was repeated just a few days ago.
Additionally, representatives from the United Nations (UN) and the European Union (EU) have also echoed similar calls in February for the Guyana Government to adhere to the Constitution.
The Opposition People’s Progressive Party (PPP) has already written several international bodies and representatives asking that they do not recognised the coalition Government after March 21, if there is no extension.