Last Wednesday the Appeal Court,by a two to one decision,upheld retired Chief Justice (ag) Ian Chang’s ruling that the term limit amendment in the Guyana Constitution which prevents a president from running for a third term is unconstitutional. The dissenter was Chief Justice (ag) Yonette Cummings-Edwards. The petition brought before the High Court in 2014 by Cedrick Richardson claimed his constitutional right is being denied to elect former President Bharrat Jagdeo to a third term.
On Monday when the now Leader of the Opposition was asked if he is interested in a third term,his was a coy response that, “When the time comes then you will hear from me whether I am interested or not.” This craftiness he brings to modern politics and pursuit for the highest office of the land has resemblance to that of Russia’s President Vladimir Putin. That aside, former President Donald Ramotar is quoted in the Monday’s Stabroek News as saying the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) believes in the term-limit and supported the amendment. While this may be reassuring,it makes constitutional and political sense to pursue the determination of the court’s case to finality.
Few can disagree that Jagdeo’s politics is not without a uniqueness that even leaves his comrades astounded. Leading up to the 2011 General and Regional Elections,he sought to impress upon society his disinterest in a third term, and distanced himself from a group, that included longstanding members of his party, who in 2009 were campaigning for him to run again. Even leading up to the 2011 elections,he gave the impression his political career was over and he was moving on to other things. Having said that some may be disinclined to see a nexus between 2009 and 2014 push to have him run for a third term.
During Ramotar’s presidency,allegations were widespread that he did not enjoy the latitude of his office but functioned on the instructions of Jagdeo, though it should be said Ramotar denied it. In the 2015 Elections,the ferocity Jagdeo took to the campaign and his presence on the List of Representatives led to intensified speculations about his re-entry into politics and allegations as to who was in charge of the presidency and the party.
Being elected Leader of the Opposition and later as General Secretary of his party,while Clement Rohee withdrew from the position,would lend credence to allegations that Jagdeo is obsessed with power. Thus, though it was he who as president assented to the Bill that mandates not more than two terms, it is not lost on observers that Richardson’s petition is a step up from the group that lobbied for him to have a third term. Likewise, being on the List of Representatives,it was felt that he was there to make up number but became Leader of the Opposition;a similar situation is not impossible in achieving the presidency if the PPP/C wins any future elections.
The precedence society derisively calls “musical chairs” in 1999 that saw Jagdeo’s ascension to the presidency is a matter of political record that can be repeated. The Guyana Constitution is the country’s supreme law and it helps where there exists any doubt as to its interpretation that all legal avenues be pursued to have it clarified. The High Court and Appeal Court had their say. The next court to interpret whether Jagdeo, or any person, in the future who would have been elected twice as president can seek a third term, or hold the office of the presidency for a third term, will now be determined by the Caribbean Court of Justice.
The appellants, Attorney General Basil Williams S.C and Minister of Natural Resources,Raphael Trotman, have 30 days from last Wednesday’s ruling to file an appeal. Through their lawyers they said they would. This case continues to generate robust conversations regarding proper interpretation of the pertinent Articles in the Constitution. Definitively answering Richardson’s request in a court of law is of importance and it is reasonable to expect all the necessary counsel, legal and otherwise, will be sought and no stone left un-turned in presenting a credible response. The world will be following the petition, given its landmark nature and implications.