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Constitutional reforms can be scrapped if presidential term limits case succeeds

Several major amendments to Guyana’s constitution would have to be scrapped if a challenge to the presidential term limit in the Constitutional Court is successful, according to legal experts in government and opposition.

Cedric Richardson, a private citizen, wants the court to find that the amendment to the constitution by two-thirds of the Parliamentarians to provide for a two-term presidency was wrong and should have been done by a referendum.

Attorney General, Anil Nandlall and Chairman of the Alliance For Change (AFC) political party, Nigel Hughes say that if the High Court rules in the plaintiff’s favour, key constitutional amendments including those that established several Rights Commissions would have to be scrapped.

Hughes reasoned that the real motive of the litigation was not so much giving Former President Bharrat Jagdeo the option of running for office again- something he has repeatedly ruled out- but scrapping a number of the progressive amendments to the constitution that emerged from the reform process.

“The effect of a favourable pronouncement in the Richardson proceedings will also adversely impact upon all the changes that were made to the constitution which means that primary amongst them, off course, would be the Public Procurement Commission which would be reversed. We would not have a Human Rights Commission and all the other positive developments that came out of those very laborious consultations that took place,” Hughes said.

The Attorney General agreed that several of the more than 180 changes to the Constitution would be dismantled if Richardson wins his interpretation of the supreme law. “There are many provisions which were passed under the same mechanism which would be affected  with the same flaw that Richardson contends the term limits provision is afflicted with,” Nandlall told Demerara Waves Online News.

Former Chairman of the Constitutional Reform Commission, Senior Counsel Ralph Ramkarran at the weekend virtually ruled out the possibility of the High Court ruling in Richardson’s favour.

“It is not known what arguments the lawyers have in mind, but on the surface and at first glance the case has no merit whatsoever. The only constitutional right an elector has is to vote. There is no right to vote for a specific person. If the two-term limit is to be challenged, it is Dr. Jagdeo who must do so. And Article 90 of the Constitution, which was amended to provide for the two-term limit, is amendable by a two-thirds majority. A referendum is not required. What legal or intellectual circumlocution (‘twaddle’) is going to be deployed to get around the plain language of the Constitution is anyone’s guess,” said Ramkarran.

The Attorney General noted that sections of the constitution can be amended by a simple majority or two-thirds depending on how deeply entrenched they are.

Some legal experts argue that Guyana’s constitution cannot be amended but instead can be altered.