Discussions and analyses over the Appeal Court’s decision on the now famous no-confidence motion continue, and may not abate in the near future. This is understandable, given its different impact on various sections of the society — elation for some, profound disappointment for others; and yet, for many, a sense of confusion to be recovered from. The bewilderment pertains to how the numerical decision was derived in the context of basic mathematical principles.
That aside, the swiftness with which the matters were dealt with must be commended. From the Government’s initial appeal to the Speaker of the National Assembly, to recourse to the High Court, and then the appeal, none can argue over how much of a priority dealing with the issue was, and the need for a swift resolution. This augurs well for the much-needed urgent processing of matters of national importance.
Kudos to those directly involved in making this happen. That said, the swift process also demonstrated that our system can rise to the occasion when needed. In doing so, it must however not be perceived as being selective in what it chooses to prioritise.
This is in context of the election petition brought by the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) following the May 2015 general election, which is still to be ruled upon almost four years after! The current Government won that election by less than five thousand votes. In one Region, it won by one ballot, which was directly responsible for its acquiring the one-seat Parliamentary majority.
The PPP raised numerous concerns over alleged electoral improprieties, some directly related to what it believed to be questionable processes employed in regard to counting the ballots at some places of poll. The party sought recounts in polling places where it believed incorrect calculations took place to its disadvantage.
Its requests were denied through what it deemed as frivolous excuses advanced to directly benefit the present Government. With all of its efforts made to fail before the official and final results were announced, the PPP sought recourse through the courts.
With almost half of the voting population feeling a sense of being cheated, the party was confident that the courts would swiftly hear the case and pronounce. It was, for the party and the country, an urgent matter of national importance, since it directly impacted the social fabric of society.
It must be noted that in cases where the margin of victory for a particular place of poll or district is within a certain range in terms of narrowness, an automatic recount is expected. Even if it’s not done immediately, it is expected to be facilitated following a subsequent request. The recount for that one-ballot margin was disallowed. That, and other incidents, sowed suspicion of possible electoral fraud having been committed, which still lingers.
It begs the question as to why that petition has not been fully heard. The PPP and its supporters were positive of their case being successful, with the possibility of nullifying the 2015 results and fresh elections being held.
The National Assembly Validity of Election Act mandates that an election petition must be heard on a day-to-day basis until it is determined by the Chief Justice or any other Judge he/she appoints. It is the only case in our legal system that the law mandates to be heard with such dispatch. In other words, it must be heard swiftly and without delay.
From all reports, that case is currently stalled in the court, following an appeal.
This is where answers are urgently needed, especially since all that transpired within the courts following the no-confidence vote were processed and concluded within three months, including the appeal. What therefore could have been the reason for the election petition not being concluded as mandated by the law?
While the PPP and its supporters will have their own answers, Guyanese would be concerned, given the impact of that case on democracy, stability and credibility.
That seemingly selective prioritisation of cases deemed important to the state gives rise to concerns regarding perceived preference of one over the other. It may even suggest that the election petition may not have been classified as a matter of national importance, when it ought to be. That could possibly create confusion in people’s minds, and can point to a lack of consistency in an institution that is held in high esteem as being impartial and completely divorced from any semblance of political allegiance. Confidence can also be impacted, given the adage of the consequence of delayed justice.
This must not happen in societies deemed to be democratic, since the executive arm must be made to answer, and be held accountable if found to be in breach of the law, in keeping with national importance. Therefore, there should be no room for confusion as to “why not”, as is now seemingly the case. The confusion appears to be twofold: the sloth in hearing the election petition, and what really constitutes a majority from a quantum that is an odd number.
It is simply uncontestable that 5 is a majority out of 9, using the number of Judges on the US Supreme Court and the impact on decision-making from its 5-4 split. What makes 33 out of 65 so different and unacceptable here? Selectiveness? Spare a thought for our schoolchildren as they are taught “new” modern mathematics!