by Samuel Sukhnandan
Executive members of Guyana’s two major political parties differ on the route that should be taken to end the current electoral impasse, with People’s National Congress Reform’s (PNCR) Aubrey Norton calling for an immediate resolution to be struck between all parties.
But, People’s Progressive Party (PPP) executive member, Anil Nandlall rejected that suggestion, saying that the only end to the process would be for the David-Granger administration to concede defeat and engage the PPP on the forward after that party is sworn into office.
Norton, a former University of Guyana Political Science lecturer, says while the option to nullify the election remains on the table given the complaints his party has made with regards to irregularities, he noted that all parties should come together to end the electoral process by striking that deal.
“What we need here is a resolution that involves all of us, so at the end of the process, we all will feel comfortable as Guyanese that we have a legitimate government and we have a situation where all Guyanese will be part and parcel of it. But to tell us to forgo our just position, so that another government will come into being by illegal means, I believe is not a rational or useful approach. We need to take all variables into consideration,’ he said on a CCN TV6 programme in Trinidad. Norton was responding to the host Mr. Fazeer Mohammed, where he was asked if the ongoing political impasse could damage the economic prospects of the country.
While acknowledging that Monday’s High Court ruling has established the fact that the recount figures are legitimate and is in keeping with a previous court ruling, Norton said the question must now be asked how could only one element of the recount, particularly the observation report be taken into consideration.
“We need to point out essentially that what we were involved in, was a petition. What a petition does legally, is somebody files a petition, the boxes are opened and essentially that was done. We have to argue that clearly, what should happen is all elements of the order should be taken into consideration or else what the court would be doing is to facilitate electoral fraud. This is not a case where you don’t know what’s in the box, this is not the case where you don’t know what would have happened in the process,” said Norton, a former PNCR General Secretary.
He further contended that it is a case where the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) went into the box, “you know what would have happened, you have an observation report stating what has happened.” Norton went on to say that the court therefore has the authority, “now that the facts are out there, and you should address the facts, so that they should be resolution to this issue. It cannot be a case of you saying to us, we know we’ve been in the box, we know that it’s illegal, but just use the recount, put your opponents in power, and then go to an elections petition.”
But Guyana’s Chief Justice Roxanne George-Wiltshire in her ruling on Monday said that the national vote recount overtook the original vote count and so any declarations made before were correctly set aside by Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) Chair Claudette Singh. The Chief Justice said in her judgement that the only data that can be used would have to be the recount results and not the previous ten declarations.
For Mr. Norton’s part, if the A Partnership for National Unity/Alliance for Change (APNU+AFC) coalition of which the PNCR is the major party, an election petition could take many years while arguing that the party finds no comfort in Guyana’s major bilateral partners like the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and the European Union saying they will hold the PPP feet to fire. “This is a pragmatic political situation that we have to deal with. Unfortunately it is being dealt with in the context of law, and some may seem to want to look at the entire law, not selective in its use,” he added.
In response, Nandlall maintained that an election is a legal process and therefore it must be understood that certain principles of law will apply. “What you have here is a whole bunch of people who have no legal training and who are commenting publicly on legal principles of some complexity. They don’t seem to understand any of the judgements coming from the courts. We heard very clear pronouncements from the Chief Justice, and the CCJ two weeks ago, and yet you hear volumes of ignorance being spouted,” referring to Norton statements about reaching consensus for a resolution.
The former attorney general noted that there is a time and place in an election process for different challenges, saying “whoever has a problem with dead voting, migrant voting, polling box not in tact…those are matters for after an election results are declared.”
He further contended that there is no provision in the law halfway through an electoral process, for anyone to stop the election “to investigate whether a dead man voted, or a person in New York voted, or there were some procedural irregularities.” The law, he asserted, does not permit such, explaining that unless this is understood, only then people would have a sound understanding of the court judgements.
In responding to Norton’s claims that the election could be nullified, the PPP executive and prominent attorney told News Talk Radio 103.1 FM/Demerara Waves Online that an election can only be annulled or set aside after the hearing of an election petition, and a court that is called an election court makes such a pronouncement. “There is absolutely no provision in the law, and no one authorised in law, to annul an election other than through an election petition, or election court.”
Mr. Nandlall also criticised the PNCR executive for his political comments saying, “this is not a popularity contest or a contest where people express what their views are, and what they’re thinking, or what or what should not happen.This is not that type of process. This is a legal process. This is not a process based on political wisdom and sanctity. The jurisdiction of courts are established by law and are circumscribed by law…That farcical appeal made by Norton will not succeed anywhere among sensible people.”
He continued, “Every court they (government) have gone to, has told them that these types of cases can’t be dealt with by this particular court. If the court is to listen to them and grant them the remedies they are asking to grant, the court will be acting illegally. And they can’t seem to get that to penetrate their heads.”
The former Legal Affairs Minister said, too, that all the issues that the coalition is seeking to have addressed will be dealt with but at an appropriate time.
“The losers of the elections must accept that they have lost the elections, give up the government as civilised politicians do, take their seats up in the National Assembly on the opposition side of the bench, and approach the government for an engagement on the way forward. But one must not lose an election and attempt to use tactics of bullyism and intimidation to demand a place in government which they have lost,” he added, noting that when the PPP lost in 2015 they stepped aside to allow the coalition to take its place.
Guyana’s electoral issues seem far from over now that the (APNU+AFC) coalition appealed the recent High Court ruling.