By Mohabir Anil Nandlall, Attorney-at-Law
I read a brief missive from, Mr. Khemraj Ramjattan, calling upon Major General (Ret’d) Joe Singh to respect the law. In it, he says:
“Secondly, as regards to history, I know of the Janet Jagan saga where a recount occurred and was overseen by Caricom, Cross Commission I think, but after she was sworn in. An elections petition had to be filed by Esther Perreira. I was in that case. Again, in 2006 when AFC won that Reg 10 seat and we pleaded to have it corrected before results declared, then Chief Elections Officer, Gocool Boodhoo said, “Go file an elections petition”.”
Unfortunately, Ramjattan does not explain what he means by “the Janet Jagan saga”.
I was around in 1997. Raging violence had erupted on the streets of Georgetown and in several parts of the country because of the delay that attended those elections results. Mr. Ramjattan was a leader of the PPP at the time. He would have known that the Commission made a “unanimous” decision to declare the results after they were satisfied that the PPP/C had obtained an “UNASSAILABLE LEAD” and had won the Government by a majority, as advised by the Chief Elections Officer. In other words, even if all the votes left to be counted were accorded to the PNC, they would have lost the elections.
It is in those unique circumstances that the results were declared and Mrs. Janet Jagan was “deemed” to be the President under the Constitution. Therefore, there is no basis for comparing the current circumstances to those which existed in 1997. Significantly, the ex post facto Forensic Audit, commissioned and executed under the auspices of CARICOM, confirmed the accuracy of the results declared by GECOM.
Unless he suffers from some lapse of memory, Mr. Ramjattan’s recollection of the events ought to be identical to mine.
As regards the 2006 elections, I also recall the contention of the AFC that they won Region 10 seat in the National Assembly. They filed an Election Petition in the name of “Walter Melville”. I appeared for the PPP/C. The Petition was dismissed based upon legal submissions I made.
Mr. Ramjattan then argues that there must be a presumption of regularity in relation to what GECOM does. I am partisan, so I will refrain from expressing a view. Instead, I proffered the observations expressed by The Commonwealth Observer Mission to Guyana, accredited to observe the 2nd March 2020 elections. They said, inter alia, the following:
- The repeated cessation of the tabulation process for a variety of irregular reasons.
- The Group did not observe any material or substantive impediments inside the tabulation room, which might have prevented the resumption of the tabulation process. It is the Group’s clear view that robust exchanges between political party agents in the room only occurred when the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) repeatedly halted the tabulation process.
- The unlawful declaration made by Mr. Mingo on 5 March at about 2pm, despite the tabulation process being halted.
- The unlawful 5 March declaration of Mr. Mingo was undertaken under heavy police guard; and his departure from the tabulation centre was guided and guarded by six police officers.
- The continued failure of the Returning Officer, Mr. Mingo, to comply with the 11 and 13 March orders and judgements of the Acting Chief Justice. On 13 March, The Chief Justice made it patently clear that actual statements of poll should be shown to entitled parties present. For the avoidance of doubt, the Acting Chief Justice demonstrated herself how this should be done and enquired “what was the difficulty in doing so” during the contempt of court proceedings.
- However, on resuming the tabulation after leaving the Court on 13 March, Mr. Mingo refused all requests from those entitled to be present to view the actual statements of poll and did not display the spreadsheet being populated. This compromised the process of ascertaining the credibility of the statements of poll relied on by Mr. Mingo to tabulate the results; and, it was impossible for party agents and those entitled to be present to observe that the numbers being called out were being accurately entered on the spreadsheet.
- In some cases, the tabulation totals announced by Mr. Mingo on 13 March reflected more voters than were entered on the list of eligible electors for certain polling stations.
- At no point did the leadership of the Guyana Electoral Commission halt or rectify these blatant instances of disregard for the rule of law and electoral ethics, despite its vested authority to independently ensure credible elections.
If the matters highlighted by The Commonwealth team amounts to regularity by GECOM, then Guyana should prepare for heavy snowfall tonight!
So, to Mr. Ramjattan I say, you must also respect the law and support a recount of the Ballots. After all, it is a mandatory facility, granted by the law, which cannot be lawfully refused.
Mr Mohabir Anil Nandlall is an executive member of the People’s Progressive Party (PPP). He is a prominent Attorney-at-Law and former Minister of Legal Affairs and Attorney General.