THE Chief Justice is set to rule on Wednesday on the challenge to the ongoing house-to-house registration brought by Mr. Christopher Ram.
The CJ’s ruling could trigger another round of judicial review that could end up at the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ). Attorney General, Basil Williams, has correctly argued that these matters have already been ligated by the three levels of the judicial system. The court has already declined to name an election date.
It is our view that the challenge by Mr. Ram is an attempt to get the High Court to overturn the ruling of a higher court which would of course fly in the face of judicial tradition. The CCJ was very clear. As observed above, it refused to breach the wall of separation between the judiciary and the other branches of government. In so doing, it declined to become entangled in the country’s politics. Finally, it provided a blueprint for a solution by recommending a “marrying of principle with practicality.” This blueprint is threefold: its rulings, orders and recommendations. In the process, it made clear that a solution must include the tree principal players—the President, the opposition leader and GECOM.
GECOM has opted to conduct house-to-house registration in the shortest possible time as a means of sanitising the voters’ list. That body deemed the list to be massively tainted and reasoned that it could be best corrected by a house-to-house registration exercise. In keeping with the CCJ’s recommendation to heed the constitutional requirement of speedy elections, GECOM has reduced its original timeline for the house-to-to-house registration from eighteen months to three months. In so doing, it struck a balance between principle and practicality as recommended by the court.
Mr. Ram’s contention, then, that the house-to-to-house registration collides with Article 6: 6 is baseless. Although GECOM’s timeline would result in elections being held later than the constitutional requirement, it is covered by Article 6-7 which makes allowance for an extension if so required. This is the practicality that the court recommended, and the framers of the constitution envisaged. A clean voters’ list is a necessary and legal requirement for democratic and credible elections. Surely the constitution and the court could not be blind to this requirement. In the meantime, the house-to-house registration is on schedule – 108,000 persons have been registered in the first two weeks. At this rate the exercise would be over within the three-month timeline which would facilitate elections by the end of the year.
It is clear that Mr. Ram, the PPP and its cohorts are deliberately ignoring the practicality involved. By stressing the CCJ’s orders in relation to Article 6-6, they are delinking the ruling from the recommendations. Similarly, they are delinking Article 6-6 from Article 6-7. The CCJ’s rulings and orders must be read together with its recommendations and the two relevant articles in the constitution should also be read together. Failure to do so is tantamount to judicial and political dishonesty.
The CCJ, obviously cognisant of the zero-sum attitude inherent in Guyana’s politics, recommended that the principal actors be guided by cooperation and consensus. After much back and forth, this was heeded by the two leaders in the naming of the GECOM chair. All sides congratulated the leaders for rising above their partisan considerations.
Friday’s meeting therefore was somewhat a setback given that the President and the opposition leader were not able to find consensus with reports stating that there was no change in positions. In the final analysis, it is the two leaders who must move the process forward as prescribed by the CCJ. Whatever the Chief Justice’s ruling on August 14, the two leaders must decide whether the matter would proceed to the higher courts or be settled by a consensus on the election date.
The President, as he did in the case of the appointment of the GECOM chairman, has shown willingness to compromise. It is time the opposition leader follow suit. We fear that the PPP’s non-cooperation would not achieve the outcome of holding the elections in the shortest possible time. This can be best achieved through cooperation and consensus.
It is against this background that we urge the PPP to do the right thing by agreeing to an extension of the life of the government in keeping with the requirements of Article 6-7. The party should return to the National Assembly to facilitate this process. By holding on to its stated position of not returning to the assembly and refusing to recognise the government after September 18, the PPP is not covering itself in glory. At crucial moments like these, responsible and mature leadership is required.
The PPP must be mindful that its actions are in breach of Article 6-7 and has the potential of exacerbating unnecessary tensions in the society. We have come a long way as a nation and Guyana deserves better. History would look kindly on Mr. Jagdeo and the PPP if they choose country over narrow partisan considerations. The nation and the world are watching.