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Gov’t to ask High Court to extend 90-day general election deadline pending legal challenge of no-confidence motion passed by 33 votes

Former Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs, Anil Nandlall and current Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs, Basil Williams

Attorney General Basil Williams on Thursday said government would ask the High Court to extend the 90-day period within which general elections must be held to allow a ruling on the constitutionality of the opposition-sponsored no-confidence motion.

“I don’t see how we could go to court and not preserve the status quo so we have to preserve the status quo until the court finishes with the matter…to prevent the time from running out in terms of the decision from last Friday…the 90 days,” he told reporters.

Williams made known his position after House Speaker Dr. Barton Scotland said he would not reverse the 33-32 vote and would instead allow the court to decide on the issues. Williams said the primary issues are whether former government parliamentarian Charrandas Persaud, was a qualified, elected member to sit in the House because of his Canadian citizenship and whether the vote should have been 32.5 rounded up to 33+1 = 34 seats.

The House Speaker made it clear on a number of occasions during Thursday’s parliamentary sitting, that the motion was passed. “After a number of hours of debate, the motion was put and carried by a majority of one vote. The motion was carried by a majority of 33 in favour and 32 votes against,” Scotland said. Persaud “withheld his support from the governing coalition on the list of which he was a member and instead voted with the opposition,” he said.

Scotland said while he is empowered to reverse his rulings based on “strong and compelling evidence”, they always hinged on upholding Guyana’s constitution.

Scotland had hoped that the President and the Opposition Leader would have already held “talks” and he would have been in a position to speak to the House about them.

Scotland noted that although he has the power to reverse decisions, he has decided against doing so in this instance and prefers that the issues be adjudicated on for a “full, final and complete settlement by a court of competent jurisdiction”.

Guyana’s constitution makes it clear that after a no-confidence motion is passed the President and Cabinet must resign and general elections must be held in 90 days. At the same time, the Constitution provides for the President to remain in office until March 20 when general elections are constitutionally due.

Shadow Attorney General and Legal Affairs Minister, Anil Nandlall said his People’s Progressive Party would not be moving to the Court because it maintains that the no-confidence motion was passed and, constitutionally, the next step is for the David Granger-led administration to resign and for general elections to be held. “We are not going to take no [sic] matter to court. The constitution is very clear. There is no ambiguity. We are not in doubt,” he said.

If the Court does not put a brake on the 90 days pending the outcome of the case, Nandlall fears that there would be anarchy. The PPP has already written to the Chief Justice to ask to be heard in ex parte (by one side only) proceedings that might be filed.

The House Speaker said the Court would also have to decide whether Persaud could have abandoned the list of candidates to which he had belonged and still retain his position as an elected member of the House. “These matters require urgent attention since the motion of 21st December, 2018 was passed by a vote of 33-32 and now former Member of Parliament took part in the vote for the majority,” he said.

Attorney General Williams said Senior Counsel Rex McKay would be filing proceedings on Friday without prejudice to plan talks between President Granger and Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo. Williams said there was no need to await the outcome of those talks before going to court but instead to strengthen the government’s hand before going to the table for talks. “How would we eventuate so you have a good position. You know the vote was not correct, you know that one person was disqualified so let’s go ahead,” he said.

He also echoed the need for political cooperation between the government and the opposition as has been pledged by the President and the Opposition Leader.

“I keep saying that the time is really ripe when you are on the cusp of such transformation. You have plenty so why continue combating when there is enough for everybody to go around so let the talks go on,” Williams said in an apparent reference to oil bonanza revenues expected to flow from late this year or early 2020.

The PPP boycotted Thursday’s sitting of the House.