As Guyana careens towards another constitutional crisis, three encouraging things happened this week. First, Dr George Norton, a senior PNC Member of Parliament and a minister, speaking on behalf of APNU/AFC, stated APNU/AFC will give consideration to a possible decision by GECOM to halt House-to-House (H2H) Registration. Second, President Granger met with GECOM, with his media people telegraphing that the President might be considering an imminent date for elections. The President did meet with GECOM, but no date was proposed. Third, the President met with the Leader of the Opposition and they will meet again next week.
While suspicion is rife that George Norton’s recent statement that APNU/AFC will give consideration to GECOM’s possible halting of H2H Registration was intended as a warning to the GECOM Chair not to move in that direction, it is also possible it could be a softening, leaving it up to the Chair, giving her space to do her job. We should all hope this is the case.
If Dr Norton’s statement truly was intended to provide space for the GECOM Chair to make a decision based on the constitutionally-mandated election, this would be a good thing. After all, elections are due by September 18— as Carl Greenidge, two weeks ago, agreed. Retired Justice Claudette Singh rightfully stated at her swearing-in event that she will make her decisions and judgements based entirely on the law and entirely guided by the Constitution and the Judiciary. Dr Norton’s statement, therefore, could be a recognition that should the GECOM Chair base her decision on the law, then the H2H Registration becomes non-viable and must end. This would be a major breakthrough. It would signal a seismic change for APNU/AFC. For one, this would mean APNU/AFC has withdrawn the onus it placed on GECOM to determine the date for elections. Before this, APNU/AFC wrongly promoted the idea that the election date is solely the responsibility of GECOM. This position meant the President recklessly abdicated his presidential duty to name a date for elections. Now, with a new legally-appointed Chair, could it be that Dr Norton is signalling to the GECOM Chair that she has the space and freedom to base her decision purely on the law and circumstances, and not be constrained by the need to please any political stakeholder? We are hopeful this is the case. It is the responsibility of the President to name a date within a constitutionally-mandated timeframe. At this time, that date must be on or before September 18. It is the responsibility of GECOM to ensure credible elections within that timeframe.
GECOM’s present H2H Registration is in contravention of that constitutionally-mandated elections timeline. The new Chair has responsibly indicated she is obligated to adhere to the Constitution and the law. In that case, she has no alternative but to support the legally available mechanism to have a list available for elections within the constitutional timeline, presently by September 18. That legally available option is a Claims and Objections period; even the Chief Elections Officer has conceded that. With Claims and Objections, elections are possible within the constitutionally-mandated three months. H2H Registration will not permit elections by September 18— it will extend the time unreasonably way beyond this date.
Even as Dr Norton was making that encouraging statement, the President followed up with a meeting with GECOM and with the Opposition Leader. Before the GECOM meeting, the President’s media people telegraphed his intention to recommend a December date for elections. That did not happen with the GECOM meeting. It appears that the meeting between the President and the Opposition Leader provided encouraging signals, although very little has been said.
After a protracted period of stubbornness, APNU/AFC appears to be confronting reality and softening, if we pause suspicion for a little. There is now acceptance that there was a valid No-Confidence Motion that triggered an election by March 21; that a new three-month countdown started in June, and will end by September 18. Although the President has indicated the Cabinet will not resign, and he has not formally dissolved the Parliament, Dr Norton’s statement and the President’s meetings with GECOM and the Opposition Leader provide the country with a moment of optimism. We would want to think our posture of optimism is not wishful thinking.