President asks GECOM for elections plan in “shortest possible time”

1 day after criminal charges filed

One day after private criminal charges were filed against top Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) officials for conspiring to delay elections, President David Granger has asked the elections body to submit a work programme at the earliest time possible – with just seven days remaining before the constitutional deadline expires.

President David Granger

In a letter sent to Chairman of GECOM, Justice James Patterson, on Wednesday morning, the Head of State noted that last week’s consultation was intended to provide him with an understanding of the Commission’s work programme, which is expected to enable it to deliver credible elections within the shortest possible time.
On this note, President Granger requested the elections body to submit its work programme in “the shortest possible time”.
The Head of State emphasised in the missive that the work programme is essential to inform him of GECOM’s readiness to deliver credible elections in Guyana.
“I urge you to present your plans, programmes and financial needs which will guide my proclamation of a suitable date for elections,” President Granger stated in the letter sent to the GECOM Chairman.
The coalition Government has been facing mounting pressure to set a date for elections before the March 21 deadline as is constitutionally due. But President Granger has been insisting that he has to await guidance from GECOM before he executes his presidential responsibility.
Last week, the GECOM Chairman and six Commissioners as well as Chief Elections Officer (CEO) Keith Lowenfield met with the President. The Opposition Commissioners had disclosed that during the meeting, the CEO had indicated that there was no work plan in place as yet when asked by the Head of State.

Commission not Secretariat

GECOM Chairman, Justice James Patterson

However, when contacted on Wednesday, Lowenfield explained that the “work programme” the President is seeking is one from the Commission and not the Secretariat.
He pointed out that the GECOM Secretariat, which he heads, had presented several work plans to the Commission back in January, outlining various options, including a claims and objections period coupled with continuous registration, on the way forward regarding the holding of elections. The Secretariat had indicated that it would need a minimum of 148 days to prepare for polls with the earliest possible date being in July.
But the Commission had overlooked those options put forward by the Secretariat and decided to go ahead with house-to-house registration, which is expected to conclude sometime in November. This was voted for by the Government-nominated Commissioners supported by the Chairman.

GECOM’s unpreparedness
Meanwhile, the Opposition Commissioners at GECOM have been unsuccessfully pushing for the elections body to get ready for elections within the constitutional deadline. In fact, they presented a plan at last Friday’s meeting outlining how polls can be held before the current voters’ list expires on April 30, 2019.
But that proposal was rejected by Government and the Commissioners on Tuesday walked out of the statutory meeting at GECOM after the issue of house-to-house registration was on the agenda instead of General and Regional Elections as mandated by the Constitution of Guyana.
According to Lowenfield, the Commission will now have to come up with a consensus in order to submit the “work programme” to the Head of State. He added whatever that work programme is, the Secretariat will have to deliver on that.
Since the passage of the No-confidence Motion on December 21, 2018, there has been much criticism about GECOM’s preparedness for the mandated General and Regional Elections, with many accusing the elections body of deliberately delaying the constitutionally mandated holding of polls.
On Tuesday, private criminal charges were filed against Justice Patterson and Government-nominated Commissioners Vincent Alexander, Charles Corbin and Desmond Trotman for conspiracy to breach the Constitution of Guyana. The charges were brought by Marcel Gaskin, the brother of Business Minister Dominic Gaskin.
Filed by Attorney Sanjeev Datadin, the charges allege that the defendants, during the period of December 22, 2018 and March 9, 2019 conspired to breach Article 106 of the Constitution of Guyana, which provided for the holding of General Elections in Guyana within three months from December 21, 2018. The case comes up for hearing before Chief Magistrate Ann McLennan on Friday.
According to Article 106, upon the passage of a no-confidence motion, the President and Cabinet have to resign and call elections within 90 days or at a later date approved by two-thirds of the National Assembly.
However, Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo has since indicated that he would agree to extend the deadline for elections only if the President sets a date before April 30.

Immediately after the No-confidence Motion was passed, both President David Granger and Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo had initially committed to following the provisions outlined in the Constitution, facilitating early elections and engaging in dialogue with the Leader of the Opposition, Bharrat Jagdeo but have since changed their position.
In just one week, the constitutional deadline for holding elections will expire, throwing the country into a constitutional crisis Guyana has never been in before. Some experienced political analysts, including distinguished lawyers, have predicted that the country will head into a constitutional crisis.
Only recently, the Civil Society Forum – an organisation comprising several non-governmental organisations, as well as the Private Sector, trade unions and religious groups – argued that this position adopted by the Head of State was “unacceptable”.
In a statement on Monday, the Group said: “Giving GECOM effective power to determine when elections will be held is a position for which no constitutional support exists.”
It added that this “manoeuvre” revived the misgivings and insecurities generated by the controversial selection of the current Chair of GECOM, Justice Patterson, who now has the casting vote on when elections would be held.