As the 90-day deadline for early elections triggered by a no-confidence motion is set to expire next week, the Guyana Court of Appeal was Wednesday asked to set a new period within which the polls must be held.
Attorney-at-Law, Kamal Ramkarran, who is representing political commentator Christopher Ram in a no-confidence motion-related case, urged the three-member panel of judges to rule that the elections must be held immediately.
“In order for that decision of the Court of Appeal to have meaning, the Court is empowered to say that elections have to be held forthwith or within a period not later than 31 days from the date of the decision,” he said.
President David Granger on Wednesday wrote the Guyana Elections Commission Chairman (GECOM), Retired Justice James Patterson asking the Commission to “present your plans, programmes and financial needs which will guide my proclamation of a suitable date for elections”. He has already advised the Commission to begin preparations for the conduct of elections this year.
Sitting were Chancellor of the Judiciary, Yonette Cummings-Edwards, and Justices of Appeal Dawn Gregory and Rishi Persaud.
On the point that the National Assembly is also empowered to extend the deadline by which the elections should be held, the Attorney-at-Law said there was no evidence or indication that the House would do so and President Granger said he was awaiting word from GECOM.
“If we were to continue without an extension and there is no evidence whatsoever that there is going to be an extension or even if the date is set, then we continue on the path of an unconstitutional government; a government operating outside of the expressed terms of the Constitution,” he said.
Adding that the Court is the protector of the Constitution, Ramkarran further noted that elections could not be held on March 21 if Parliament does not approve an extension and there is no proposed date which would lead to a violation of the Constitution and crisis from the next day.
He suggested that the Court of Appeal ask the GECOM why it did not comply with the Constitution to conduct the elections within 90 days of the National Assembly’s passage of the motion on December 21.
Ramkarran said the court must act to uphold the provisions of the Constitution and ensure that the rule of law is not violated. The lawyer said “there was a mandatory duty” of the President and GECOM to ensure the elections were held within three months or within such extended period as provided for in the supreme law.
Meanwhile, Attorney-at-Law Anil Nandlall, who is representing Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo, disagreed with contentions that Cabinet and the National Assembly were required to approve a fresh allocation of GYD$3 billion to fund General and Regional Elections.
He said the Constitution allows for the monies to be drawn from the Contingency Fund after which the Finance Minister would seek parliamentary approval when the House convenes after the elections and a new government is sworn in.
Nandlall, a former Minister of Legal Affairs and Attorney General, stressed that Cabinet is separate from the government. He said it is Cabinet and the President that resign immediately after a no-confidence motion is passed, but the President and the Ministers remain in office until general elections are held and a new President is sworn in. “There is no need to go back to Parliament,” he said.
“The government has to find money for GECOM, The President remains the President. There is a Minister of Finance and there is a President and the President has to do what is required to do to hold election,” he added.
Nandlall urged the Court of Appeal to ignore applications to extend the life of the David Granger-led administration, saying that the judges would be interfering in the work of the National Assembly and the political landscape. “If your Honours were to accede to such a request, your Honours would be falling into conflict with the separation of powers doctrine.
The framers of the Constitution clearly resided that power of extension beyond that three months, did not put it in the judiciary, and that, Your Honour is not coincidental, is not an omission but it placed it in the National Assembly. They put it in the legislature because it is a political issue and the court must not be dragged into solving political matters that politicians can’t solve and that’s part of the problem in this case,” he said.
Opposition Leader Jagdeo last week told President Granger that he would not agree to extend the life of the government unless he named an election date. After meeting with GECOM, the President said the voters’ list is bloated and urged the commissioners to find a way of addressing their differences.
The three coalition elections commissioners are demanding that house-to-house registration be conducted to ensure the voters’ list does not contain the names of emigrants and deceased persons and people are registered in their current places of residence. However, the three opposition People’s Progressive Party (PPP) elections commissioners are insisting that the polls be held with the existing voters’ list that expires next monthend. GECOM is expected to conduct a new round of continuous registration and claims and objections after that deadline passes.
Attorneys-at-Law Ramkarran and Nandlall agreed with the High Court’s decision that the no-confidence motion was validly passed in the 65-seat National Assembly by a vote of 33 to 32. They also discarded arguments by Attorney-at-Law Maxwell Edwards that the government is guaranteed a five year term. Nandlall noted that another section of the Constitution states that the President at any time may prorogue or dissolve the Parliament.