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Guyana gov’t asks Caribbean Court to leave elections up to Parliament, GECOM, President, Opposition Leader

The Guyana government wants the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) to rule that it cannot direct when general elections should be held and that if Parliament fails to extend the timeframe, the President should name elections date after a new Chairman of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) is appointed and advises him of its readiness.

“If this Court orders that pursuant to section 106(7) elections must be held in three months, it will clearly be obstructing Parliament from exercising its constitutional power to extend the time if it becomes necessary to do so. The Court would be acting prematurely, and setting itself up for a clash with the Parliament,” lawyers for the government told the CCJ in reinforcing their point that the Caribbean court has no jurisdiction to extend the period for election.

In its proposed consequential order to the Trinidad-headquartered CCJ, the legal team headed by Attorney General Basil Williams also wants the Caribbean court to agree that house-to-house registration must first be done to ensure credible elections are held.

The State’s legal team wants the CCJ to order that government convenes a sitting of the National Assembly to pass a resolution to extend the three-month period within which general elections should be held “within the earliest time” after President David Granger consults with GECOM.

However, if the National Assembly does pass the resolution, the State wants the CCJ to order that the elections date be named after the President consults with GECOM.

“If for any reason the National Assembly does not pass the Resolution or the Resolution does not garner the requisite majority for an extension, the President after consultation with the Guyana Elections Commission shall dissolve the National Assembly and General and Regional Elections shall be held on a date to be fixed by the President under Articles 70(2) and 61 respectively,” says Williams, Senior Counsel Eamon Courtenay, Solicitor General Nigel Hawke, and attorneys-at-law Iliana Swift and Jerome Rajcoomar.

Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo has repeatedly ruled out supporting an extension of the life of the coalition-led administration beyond three months after the December 21, 2018 no-confidence motion. The constitutionality of the motion had been challenged in the courts with the CCJ ultimately validating the no-confidence motion on June 18.

Jagdeo and Granger last week held talks on the appointment of a new GECOM Chairman for the first time since the regional court ruled that the no-confidence motion was validly passed and that the Guyanese leader’s unilateral appointment of Retired Justice James Patterson as GECOM Chairman was flawed and unconstitutional. Patterson has since resigned.

The State’s lawyers stated that “until there is a Chairman in place, the President is unable to have constructive consultations with GECOM are a prerequisite for the determination of when credible elections can be held, and for GECOM to discharge its constitutional duty to independently, fairly and credibly administer the elections.”

The State’s lawyers told the CCJ in their proposed consequential order that GECOM could not lawfully function without a chairman whose appointment is the sole responsibility of the country’s two top political leaders. “In fine, the GECOM cannot lawfully function without a chairman. The Constitution lays out the elaborate process which must be strictly adhered to for the appointment of a chairman. It is a political process to be engaged in by the President and the Leader of the Opposition. This Court has absolutely no role to play in that process,” the Attorney General and his associates said.

On the question of house-to-house registration, the Guyana government is relying on section 3(1) of the Elections Law (Amendment) Act of 2000 and the National Registration Act as amended by the National Registration (Amendment) Act No 31 of 2007.

The CCJ judges have already remarked that GECOM should have always been ready for early general elections and they have asked how soon within or outside of the 90 days elections could be held. GECOM’s lawyer has already informed the court that the earliest GECOM can be ready for elections is December 25.