On your news item on the President meeting GECOM (GT Aug 9), it is noted that GECOM is an independent agency that is not subjected to the dictates of Government (and by extension the official Opposition) although four of its seven members are appointed by the Government (President) and three by the Opposition. Not surprisingly, a lot of eyebrows were raised when the President invited GECOM members and the body’s CEO for a consultation (meeting) in his office. This is highly unusual. It may be the first such meet by GECOM in the country’s history. Many, particularly lawyers and academics, felt it was inappropriate for the Executive to meet with GECOM. Even ordinary business people and ordinary folks I spoke with felt it is not the President’s responsibility to meet with GECOM.
The Executive meeting with GECOM was seen as “intimidating the body” towards election objectives especially when the body has begun preparations for elections. But the President explained that his meeting was simply to assure GECOM that the Government is willing to provide the necessary resources for the preparation of elections that are due as a result of the successful passage of a No-Confidence Motion against his Administration. The President assured that his Government would not hinder the work of the Elections Commission, and he also stated he would respect decisions of the body. The President also called on all Guyanese to respect the independence of GECOM and its decisions. One Commissioner is reported to have described the meeting as a waste of time. The public is divided on the meeting on party loyalty with some supporting the President meeting GECOM and the others opposed to the meeting. GECOM must never be seen to be compromised.
The President and his coalition Government partners say they want House-to-House Registration in preparation of a new voters’ list, but he said he would accept the decision of GECOM (really the new Chairwoman Ret’d Justice Claudette Singh) on the issue.
However, there is one problem on the President’s position on a date for election. The President has insisted that he would not call (announce a date for) elections unless GECOM tells him it is ready for elections. And GECOM insists that a date is the prerogative of the President. GECOM does not have a constitutional date to set a date for elections. Even lawyers for GECOM and the Attorney General are in agreement that GECOM cannot fix a date for elections. The procedure is the President fixes a date in accordance with the laws laid down in the Constitution. Whatever date the President proposes, GECOM would respond and inform the Chief Executive if it can pull off credible elections by that date. In 2001, GECOM informed the President that elections were not possible on a proposed date and it was adjusted upon agreement by all parties.
GECOM usually needs three months to prepare for an election. The Constitution also caters for three months as indicated in the Article relating to the successful passage of a No-Confidence Motion. Thus, GECOM must be in perennial preparation for elections just in case a Government loses a No-Confidence Motion. In fact, every country with a parliamentary system is always prepared for elections with a month’s notice. The body may need less time to update the voters’ list that was used last November for local elections.
GECOM’s hands are tied on House-to-House Registration until the court rules on August 14. GECOM meets on August 15 to review the court’s ruling. GECOM is likely to accept the ruling. Justice Claudette would not want to defy the court’s or the CCJ’s ruling using September 18 as a deadline for elections even though it is impractical.
The court does not have too much wiggle room on the issue of registration and an election date. The law does not cater for House-to-House Registration in light of the No-Confidence Motion in which elections are constitutionally due by September 18 as interpreted by our country’s highest court, the CCJ. That ruling supersedes all other decisions made by Gecom or lower courts or the Government. The CCJ’s ruling is the final law that cannot be reversed or defied in a democracy.
Will the High Court (Justice Roxane George) thread into the request of the Opposition on powers of the Executive to resign, dissolve the assembly, and fix a date for elections? The court is an independent branch of the Government and can’t thread into the powers of the presidency. The court can only interpret the law as indeed the CCJ did. The court is likely to repeat the judgment of the CCJ for the Executive to follow the Constitution which states the Government resigns and serve in a caretaker role as is the norm in any country where a Government lost a No-Confidence Motion.