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CCJ reaffirmed as Guyana’s final court in election case ruling – pollster

by Samuel Sukhnandan

While A Partnership for National Unity+Alliance For Change (APNU+AFC) parties are disappointed with the judgement handed down by the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) on Wednesday in the election case, political scientist and Caribbean pollster, Peter Wickham feels that the court has reaffirmed its place as the final court of Guyana.

Speaking during a live panel discussion on News Talk Radio 103.1 FM immediately after the ruling, Wickham expressed satisfaction with the ruling. “It was reaffirmed that as Guyana’s highest court it has certain responsibility and not only right to speak on matters such as this. I
was happy that he (Justice Adrian Saunders) found basis on which he was able to set aside a judgement of the earlier court where thought they had no jurisdiction and I think that was good legal reasoning. I think the Guyana constitution has been affirmed,” he remarked.

Wickham, who heads the Caribbean Development Research Services (CADRES), stated that he was also happy that the CCJ did not cower, noting that over the last few days, there have been what he described as “veil treats to the CCJ.”

He referred to a paid advertisement in sections of the press and well-planted editorials, which he found “very offensive which suggests that if the  CCJ made the decision it made today, that it would be interfering with its future and that it would be an indictment and that more countries  would not associate with it. It sounded to me like veil attempts to intimidate the CCJ to act in a particular way.”

The Caribbean pollster said he was also happy that CCJ President, Justice Adrian Saunders, “in his infinite wisdom, did not feel cowardly or afraid in terms of making  the necessary judgements that he had to make today (Wednesday), because in the final analysis, we need the CCJ as the final court of appeal to be brave.”

Wickham agreed that there might be political consequences from the ruling, which he feels is entirely the coalition’s making. “You now have to go through a  process where you will essentially detach yourself and all of these thousand of supporters of the APNU/AFC from this entire idea that the whole region and the CCJ is against you and they are ready to stamp on the sovereignty of Guyana, which is absolute nonsense.”

He also argued that “being part of a community does not mean that the community institutions will always agree with you, but the community institutions will support  the integrity of the community. And I think that the integrity of Guyana’s constitutional laws were upheld today and that is something we must be happy about.”

Despite this, the CADRES head said he is not confident that Chief Elections Officer Keith Lowenfield will complete his report as was suggested by the court.  “My expectation is Lowenfield will not act in a way that will bring him to resolve. The next question is whether the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM)  has the authority to suspend or fire him and have another election officer submit a report as previously instructed,” he questioned.

Contrary to those comments, Working People’s Alliance (WPA) executive member and political scientist Dr. David Hinds feels that the court took powers  onto itself that it does not have and that the CCJ ruling has not brought finality to the election impasse because it did not give consequential orders to GECOM.

Asked where does it therefore leave Guyana politically, Dr. Hinds responded saying that, it now becomes a battle between the CEO and the Chairman.  It is not over. Remember the CEO had said that he does not have to obey an order from the Chair of GECOM and that he is a constitutional officer.”

He continued, “What the court did today was an extreme form of judicial activism which I consider to be a political decision. So I think the
Court overstepped and it will have consequences for the future of the court and political consequences to Guyana.”Asked to describe what he
meant by political consequences, the profesor declined to expound on it only saying that he will allow the situation to play itself out.

The CCJ overturned the Guyana Court of Appeal’s decision that “more votes” means “more valid votes” on the grounds that had created an avenue for the Chief Elections Officer, Keith Lowenfield to disenfranchise tens of thousands of people. The court scrapped his  report to GECOM that  subtracted 115,000 votes from the tabulations compiled at the national vote recount and said he should submit a new report based on the request by the GECOM Chairman, Retired Justice Claudette Singh.

The regional court also said in its decision that the definition of valid votes is well-stated in the Representation of the People Act, and that after a  winner is declared, the result can be challenged by an election petition.