High Court asked to stop PNCR Congress in interest of reform, ending division; PPP, PNC named in related lawsuit on preventing unfair elections from infecting general elections

Last Updated on Wednesday, 26 June 2024, 21:12 by Writer

Mr Brian Collison

A High Court action was Wednesday filed to block the People’s National Congress Reform (PNCR) from holding its 22nd Biennial Delegates Congress, including its internal elections for the post of leader and members of the Central Executive Committee (CEC), saying that preparations violate its rules and this will ultimately infect Guyana’s general and regional elections.

A second inter-related ground-breaking lawsuit was also filed that the applicant, PNCR member Brian Collison hopes will hold Guyana’s major political parties more accountable. In a statement, the VMW Law firm said Mr Collison “wants to see reform that he hopes will strengthen his party and end division stemming from dissatisfaction with the way party elections are conducted.”

As sister courts have found, the applicant contends that what the court is confronted with is party procedures and noncompliance therewith that dilute and debase the participation of voters in the process by which candidates that appear on election ballots will emerge,” Mr Collison states in court papers. 

The injunction is being sought to restrain incumbent PNCR Leader Aubrey Norton, the PNCR by themselves either singularly or collectively or by their servants or agents from holding an election of officers and Central Executive Committee (CEC) members until the substantive matter is heard and determined or a subsequent High Court order is made to permit the holding of the congress.

Mr Collison, through his lawyer Dr Vivian Williams, is also applying for another injunction to bar the PNCR’s agents or servants from retaliating against him or any other party member for participating in the court action. “This action seeks to ensure that irregularities in the process leading up to the selection of delegates for the imminent PNC congress, do not compromise the will of the members of the PNCR and the party’s support base,” the law firm stated.

Mr Collison wants the High Court to declare that the Congress Circular dated May 17, 2024, and all subsequent congress circulars issued by Dawn Hastings-Williams, as General Secretary of the People’s National Congress, are null and void. Ms Hastings-Williams resigned with immediate effect on June 24, saying that one month was insufficient to prepare for the congress and that there were big question marks about the validity of a number of the members.

Mr Collison says Article 26 of the Constitution of the PNC requires any motion to amend its Rules, including amendment of any rules pertaining to the procedure and processes by which the Party determines candidates to appear on election ballots, to be submitted to the General Secretary at least eight weeks before the Biennial Delegates Congress. In that context, he says the first circular for the 22nd Biennial Delegates Congress was generated a mere six weeks before the date of that event is to be held. 

The short timeframe that notice was given of the date that Congress will be held, denies members their Constitutional right to recommend new rules or amend existing rules, including amendment of any rules pertaining to the procedure and processes by which the Party determines candidates to appear on election ballots,” the applicant adds. 

A third injunction being sought by the applicant restrains the respondents by themselves either singularly or collectively or by their servants or agents from infringing the rights of PNCR members as enshrined in the constitution of that party. 

The High Court is being asked to declare that the PNCR performs functions of the state that touch upon and impact constitutional rights of its members and supporters.

Mr Collison is contending that effective participation in a general election is largely determined by the opportunity to participate in the nomination stage. He said the State has delegated to political parties, the authority and function to exclusively determine candidates who appear on election ballots as the sole choices from which Guyanese may exercise their right to choose their elected representatives. “The only opportunity and means through which individuals have a say in procedures and processes adopted by political parties that touch upon and impact their right to vote, is through membership in a political party and the exercise and enforcement of rights derived therefrom,” he states in court papers seen by Demerara Waves Online News

Against that background, he said the PNCR’s Biennial Congress, held within the period the national election is constitutionally due, is the only process by which members of the Party may offer themselves or nominate someone and or participate in the process of electing the Party’s presidential candidate who appears on the election ballots. Further, he said the Biennial Congress of the PNC is the only means by which members of the PNC could have a say on the procedure and processes adopted by the Party in determining the Party’s candidates who appear on election ballots. Because the Constitution constrains the right to vote to ballot choices put forward by political parties, he adds that the procedure political parties adopt to determine their ballot choices and noncompliance with properly adopted procedures, are justiciable. 

The applicant also states that Article 160 of Guyana’s Constitution prescribes prohibitions against political parties and directs Parliament to pass laws that provides offences that political parties may commit and penalties that may be imposed against political parties.

He said that historically the PNCR and the governing People’s Progressive Party (PPP) consists of a “duopoly” in Guyana’s political landscape including in its representation at the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM).

Mr Collison says a significant fee has been imposed for attendance and participation at the 22nd Biennial Delegates Congress, although the only condition imposed by the party’s constitution for attendance and participation at the congress is the membership dues upon which membership is conditioned. “The imposition of a significant fee in relation to attendance and participation at Congress is an undue burden that infringes the rights of members and breaches the contract between the party and its members,” he states.

The affidavit by the applicant states that the inadequate notice of the date for the congress is also insufficient for meaningful participation by members and their groups because of inadequate administrative arrangements and timely notice to Party members and groups. He says the first Congress Circular also did not provide any information about the administrative arrangement and persons that are delegated special responsibilities. “The Party’s failure to timely set up the necessary administrative arrangements, appoint necessary persons to perform essential duties and inform members and groups of the arrangements and persons performing key congress duties, created substantial hurdles to members and groups exercising their rights at the Congress,” Mr Collison states. The applicant states that the PNCR’s failure to put adequate administrative arrangements and personnel for congress in place and inform members and Party groups about the arrangements and personnel, “created confusion and paralysis that has resulted in unfairness.”

The applicant states that the PNCR congress will be “unfair and prejudicial” if held on June 28-30, 2024 because there was a breach of the database that stores membership records and other essential information. The General Secretary or any other authorised person did not take adequate steps to ensure that the membership register, and essential records of the party were not compromised.”

The General Secretary and Party Leader have been cited in the applicant’s affidavit for not allowing members, groups and candidates offering themselves for various offices at the congress, to inspect the database or utilize any procedure that would reasonably allay concern and the appearance that the database has been compromised on account of the breach. The applicant says members are being denied their right to inspect the register of members of their group, the region and subdivision they are in as provided for in the Party’s Constitution.

The applicant says the PNCR Leader’s appointment as Congress Director at which he is seeking election to the office of Leader of the Party violates the democratic ideals that the party commits itself to and are the object of that party.

Also forming part of the applicant’s objection is that observers will not be permitted at the 22nd Biennial Delegates Congress despite the fact the Constitution of the PNC provides for them.

The other court action names Attorney General Anil Nandlall S.C., People’s Progressive Party General Secretary Bharrat Jagdeo, and People’s National Congress Reform Leader Aubrey Norton as respondents. The VMW Law firm states that this action seeks several declarations from the court about the standing, and obligations of political parties in ensuring that the right to vote provided for in Guyana’s Constitution, is not diluted and hindered by unfairness in internal party procedures.

The actions are, according to Dr Williams, supported by precedents in other jurisdictions that determined that the effectiveness of individuals’ participation in general elections, is in large part determined by the opportunity for party members to effectively participate in internal elections that determine candidates who appear on election ballots. ““I was compelled to provide representation after being approached by a citizen who expressed deep concerns that the major parties are not being good custodians of the fundamental duties the
Constitution places in their hands, on behalf of the people”, says Dr. Williams.

Describing himself as a reformer, Collison says he brought the action to ensure fullest participation by Party members, devoid of any manipulation.

Mr. Collison is deeply concerned about claims of irregularities in the management of the current Biennial Congress of the PNC and the electoral process that could affect the true will of the PNCR electorate in their election of new office bearers. He says his interest is in establishing accountability in the party and ensuring the most fundamental element of political representation of the people is not
further damaged by a process that is not subject to review.

In bringing this action, Mr. Collison says he recognizes the futility of further pursuing this very important matter internally because of an environment of intolerance and the inability to hold the leadership accountable for upholding basic Party rules and practices.

According to Collison, to the best of his knowledge, all efforts to address the concerns internally have been ignored, thus leaving him with no choice but to seek to uphold principles, rules and practices that would guarantee his right and that of all PNC members are upheld in a court of law as the only amicable means and last resort.