..President writes GECOM on elections preparations
…seeking work programme to set election date
Amid the ongoing stalemate at the Guyana Elections Commission, President David Granger on Wednesday wrote to the body urging it to present a work programme in the shortest possible time to guide his proclamation of a date for general elections.
Opposition-nominated commissioners have broken up the past three meetings, forcing the commission to halt its work due to a lack of quorum. On March 8, 2019 President Granger had similarly urged the Commission to determine the shortest possible time in which credible General and Regional elections can be held, after which an election date will be determined.
On Wednesday the President was forced to reiterate his call one day after the opposition nominated commissioners again walked out of the statutory meeting while the minutes were being discussed. The President’s letter to GECOM Chairman Justice (Ret’d) James Patterson requesting the work programme stressed: “I emphasise that this is essential to inform me of the Commission’s readiness to deliver credible elections in Guyana. I urge you to present your plans, programmes and financial needs which will guide my proclamation of a suitable date for elections.”
Coming out of the short-lived meeting on Tuesday, Commissioner Vincent Alexander said that Opposition- nominated Commissioners Bibi Shadick, Sase Gunraj and Robeson Benn are intentionally engineering a constitutional crisis. Adding further comments on Wednesday regarding to the President’s letter, Alexander said: “The President is accepting that he has responsibility to name the date but he’s also being realistic that to give a date that cannot be achieved by GECOM would be foolhardy so he’s relying on the advice of GECOM as he proceeds to address his mind to the date.”
While the Opposition has accused government-nominated Commissioners of stymieing the efforts towards elections and stated that the ball is completely in the president’s court to call an election date, the Ministry of the Presidency has based its reasoning on the Constitution.
In a release on Wednesday it cited Article 161 (B) of the Constitution which outlines the role of political parties and their nominees in the conduct of elections by the Elections Commission.
“The role of political parties and their nominees in the conduct of elections by the Elections Commission shall be limited to their participation in determining policy, monitoring the electoral process and the conduct of the election, but does not include active management of the electoral process,” the Article states.
President Granger has made it clear, too, that the Government will not interfere or intrude in the work of the Commission as Article 62 states: “Elections shall be independently supervised by the Election [s] Commission in accordance with the provisions of Article 162”.
“The Commission is independent. It is not for anybody to give the Commission instructions as to when elections are to be held. Once the Commission says it is ready, I will announce a date and I hope that date is as early as possible,” the President has said.
The Constitution was interpreted likewise by Alexander when questioned on Wednesday.
“What the President is doing is nothing new… it is what everyone has done in the past,” he said, later adding: “The President is doing what he has to do. We will do what we have to do and we will have to face up to whatever eventuates.”
As a result of Tuesday’s walkout, when the Commission meets again on March 19, 2019 mere hours will be left before the March 21, 2019 deadline.
Alexander says that while the thought arose of whether the Commission should hold an earlier meeting there has been no indication yet of whether this will occur. But, regarding the Opposition nominated Commissioners persistent arguments against house-to-house registration and for elections before by the March 21 deadline, Alexander said that they disregard portions of the Constitution and are forcing the Commission into chaos.
“They’re saying that GECOM ‘has to’ meet this 90-days deadline [when rather] GECOM ‘has’ to be prepared and GECOM can’t just ‘simply’ meet the 90-day deadline,” he explained.
“In some regards they’re placing a burden on GECOM beyond what GECOM is responsible for. The Constitution by virtue of 106 (7) itself recognizes that GECOM may not be able to meet the deadline. What I think is required is that responsible politicians have to rely on the institution called GECOM and to take GECOM’s advice in good faith.”