‘PPP engineering constitutional crisis’

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Commissioner Vincent Alexander speaks on how the work of the Guyana Elections Commission is being affected (Samuel Maughn photo)

–Vincent Alexander

AS the country awaits a decision from the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) regarding the shortest possible time within which credible elections can be held, opposition-nominated commissioners again walked out of Tuesday’s statutory meeting while the minutes were being discussed.

Meanwhile, Commissioner Vincent Alexander believes that Opposition- nominated Commissioners Bibi Shadick, Sase Gunraj and Robeson Benn, are intentionally engineering a constitutional crisis.

Opposition-nominated commissioners Sase Gunraj and Robeson Benn are questioned by the media following their walk out on Tuesday (Samuel Maughn photo)

“Today’s meeting came to an end under the item matters arising from the minutes. Under that item the old question was raised that we seem not to be discussing an elections schedule. The commissioners nominated by the leader of the opposition made their usual interventions and then asked to be excused,” Alexander recounted.

“The reality is that we have not, for the last three meetings, been able to go through our agenda. What is of interest is that on this occasion, if we had gone through the agenda, the next item is correspondence and there is a piece of correspondence emanating from Commissioner Shadick with a proposed schedule for elections that would have been discussed. But they have stymied the discussions of their own proposals by virtue of departing the meeting at the time when there are still matters arising from the minutes.”

Prior to departing, on agenda item ‘matters arising from the minutes’, PPP commissioners argued that the issue of house-to-house registration should not be on the agenda for discussion. “House-to-house registration is a policy decision that was taken from time-to-time by the Guyana Elections Commission. The requirement to hold elections is mandated by the Constitution of this country. The necessity to hold elections obviously trumps the need for house-to-house registration,” Gunraj told media operatives as he left.

However, Alexander countered: “There are those of us who feel that the discussion for elections need not be restricted to that. It could involve the question of whether you want to go into an election with a sanitised list but they’re obviously refusing to get involved in that discussion and only referring one aspect of the constitution rather than the whole question.”

Article 106(7) of the Constitution allows for an extension of the three-month time period with a vote of two-thirds of the elected members of the National Assembly.
Maintaining the push for a new voters’ list, Alexander reiterated that without house-to-house registration youths who have now attained the age of 18 will be disenfranchised; something he and his colleagues cannot allow.

At the meeting, the opposition-nominated commissioners also upheld, once again, that GECOM should use funds allocated by the National Assembly to carry out its mandate by using its current funds to facilitate elections. The rehashing of this position comes even as the Ministry of Finance, back in February, indicated that funds for new elections can only be utilised in accordance with the programme by which the appropriation fund was informed.
Added to this, President David Granger has stated publicly that he intends to go to Parliament to secure the necessary funds for holding new General and Regional Elections.

Tuesday’s event marks the third, consecutive time that the opposition-nominated commissioners have walked out of a meeting therefore stalling the work of the commission. “I think a crisis is being engineered as I’ve said before,” Alexander commented. “It is clear that what is being attempted here is an engineering of a constitutional crisis as defined by the leader of the opposition.”

However, when questioned on the way their actions are preventing the entire country from moving forward, the commissioners denied that they are creating a crisis. “We were forced to take this step again! Because we will not be held hostage to sit in these meetings and discuss anything that does not cater for the holding of elections,” Gunraj stated. “The constitutional crisis will be borne out of the failure to hold elections in the constitutionally mandated timeline which is 90 days or three months from the successful passage of the no-confidence motion.”

Meanwhile, Benn added: “We are not creating the crisis. We are not creating the crisis…if we do house-to-house registration for the next nine months or whatever the crisis will be on us before that time. The crisis will be on us by the 21st of March and we’re not having anything to do with that because we’re not engaging in that discussion.”

Still, they overlooked the fact that the commission, since February 19, 2019, had agreed by way of vote that it is unable to hold new elections by March 21, 2019 or within a three-month time period. President Granger, after meeting with the commission on March 8, 2019 urged the commissioners to return to the discussion table to determine the shortest possible time in which credible elections can be held, after which an election date will be set.

It has been clearly noted in the press that the President cannot foolhardily determine an election date without knowing whether the commission is capable of meeting a particular time period. Due to the walkout, the commission is expected to meet yet again on March 19, 2019 to hopefully come to a decision, now, just two days before the constitutional deadline.