Opposition goes to court to block Local Govt Elections over boundaries

Last Updated on Thursday, 4 May 2023, 17:44 by Denis Chabrol

The People’s National Congress Reform (PNCR)-led A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) has asked the High Court to order the postponement or cancellation of the June 12 Local Government Elections (LGE) on the basis that 37 constituency boundaries in 19 Local Authority Areas have been changed in violation of Guyana’s constitution and the Local Government Act.

“The Applicant will contend that should the Local Government Election be conducted by the Guyana Elections Commission with the use of these reconfigured Constituencies in the Local Authority Areas the prospects of success of the APNU will be severely prejudiced,”  according to the application.

Through Attorney-at-Law Lyndon Amsterdam, PNCR/APNU’s Carol Smith Joseph wants the High Court to quash those boundaries and order the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) not to hold the elections for the 70 neighbourhood and 10 town councils until the boundaries are fixed in keeping with the law and the constitution.

“An Order of Prohibition, prohibiting the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM), from holding the Local Government Elections on June 12, 2023 with the changed boundaries and the new and reformulated Constituencies as set out in Order 13 of 2023 unless and until it complies” with Article 72 of Guyana’s Constitution and Section 3(1)(a) and (b) of the Local Authorities (Elections) Act, Cap. 28:03;” the court document states.

The respondents are Chief Election Officer Vishnu Persaud and GECOM Chairman Retired Justice Claudette Singh.

The APNU-Alliance For Change (AFC) scrutineer said she received information from the opposition-nominated Election Commissioners Charles Corbin and Vincent Alexander about the decision to reformulate the boundaries for the upcoming local polls.

Mr Alexander, in his affidavit, states that on November 15, 2022, Local Government Minister Nigel Dharamlall issued an order in an attempt to unilaterally change or establish the boundaries of 37 constituencies within 19 Local Authority Areas. But on December 15, 2022, the seven-member Election Commission decided that the minister overstepped his powers and that there was need for a field  exercise.  Mr Alexander said the Chief Election Officer Persaud presented a report that did not deviate from the Local Government Minister’s recommendation.

“The Chief Election Officer subsequently presented a Report that indicated that his Field Officers had found no problems with the demarcation proposed by the Minister because the law provided for such demarcation to be done by combining and/or sub-dividing Electoral Divisions.

He further contended that he could not find any documents or precedents and in view of the urgency of the matter, he proceeded to propose that boundaries be demarcated in accordance with his recommendations which coincided with those previously recommended by the Minister of Local Government, the Honourable Nigel Dharamlall,” Mr Alexander states in his affidavit.

Mr Alexander, who  is serving as an Election Commissioner for 16 years, now, said the commission rejected Mr Persaud’s report and directed the Chief Elections Officer to conduct the field exercise based on established precedent of similar exercised by the Commission. According to the court papers, after Mr Persaud maintained that he had no precedents to follow, Mr Alexander said he provided several Reports showing the discussions that took place in the past showing how the Field exercise should be undertaken, one Minute which showed that criteria
and procedures had been approved but it however failed to document what was approved for the Field exercise, documents that showed how the exercise had been undertaken in the past and therefore suggested that this should be used by Chief Election Officer to undertake Field exercise.
After those were provided on January 24, 2023, Mr Alexander said the Chief Election Officer on January 31 presented a report from the Field Exercise which showed that the precedents were not used. Mr Alexander said when he pointed out that the report did not comply with Guyana’s Constitution, paving the way for the Commission to accept the boundaries that had been originally announced by the Local Government Minister. “Thereafter the Commission by a majority voted, rejecting my proposal for the use of the precedents I presented
because the majority contended that there was no record of the approval of the criteria and procedures for the demarcation of Electoral constituencies.

The Commission also by a majority voted to accept the Report of Chief Election Officer, Vishnu Persaud  approving the new demarcation proposed in the Report which resulted in the changing and/or establishing of boundaries for thirty-seven constituencies in nineteen Local Authority Areas, previously proposed by the Minister of Local Government.  I also observed that the recommendations of the Chief Election Officer were identical to those previously proposed by the Minister of Local Government,” Mr Alexander also said in his affidavit.

That opposition Election Commissioner provided information showing that changes to the boundaries will lead to more seats in a number of local neighbourhood councils and less than other.

Earlier Thursday, Leader of the Opposition Aubrey Norton said the High Court action was filed on Wednesday seeking to “either postpone or stop the Local Government Elections.” “As it stands, on the question of the manipulation of the boundaries and a number of other issues, we have already filed and we will continue to file legal action to deal with these issues,” he added.

Mr Norton explained that PNCR/APNU has already filed complaints, informed GECOM and would continue to take legal action on all aspects of the alleged irregularities.  That political organisation has over the past two weeks been complaining bitterly about alleged forging of names of nominators/ backers of candidates because many persons have come forward denying that they or their relatives had signed any LGE-related document.