Opposition overstepping
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Attorney General, Basil Williams
Attorney General, Basil Williams

…AG warns PPP against bullying GECOM

…says CCJ’s refusal to set timelines should guide opposition

THE Caribbean Court of Justice’s (CCJ) decision to steer clear of giving coercive orders to the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) on how or when elections should be held ought to serve as an example to the opposition which now seeks to do the opposite by threatening the electoral body with sanctions if it does not commence preparation for elections.

Attorney-General and Minister of Legal Affairs, Basil Williams, had expected better from the Opposition but concluded that such a blatant act of overstepping the processes of the Constitution is not beyond “that group of individuals.”

On Tuesday, government-nominated Commissioners at GECOM had to re-educate their fellow Opposition-nominated Commissioners as well as Attorney and Opposition Member of Parliament (MP), Anil Nandlall, who sought to force the hand of the Commission.

Nandlall, acting on behalf of Opposition Leader, Bharrat Jagdeo, threatened “sanctions” against GECOM’s Chief Elections Officer (CEO), Keith Lowenfield, if he did not commence election preparation activities.

Such activities are unauthorised as the Commission is currently without a Chairman and requires such before it can take any major steps towards the preparation for General and Regional Elections.

“That’s the usual approach of the Opposition, particularly the Leader of the Opposition,” Minister Williams stated on Wednesday when he appeared on the Hot Seat, a 94.1FM radio programme, hosted by broadcaster, Stan Gouveia.

“The CCJ rejected their contention that they could interfere in the business of GECOM. If the CCJ refuses to interfere in the business of GECOM and said they would not set deadlines and timelines, who is Nandlall? GECOM is an independent body and Article 226 (1) and (7) [of the Constitution] clearly assures the independence of GECOM.”

On July 12, 2019, the CCJ gave orders that it had no authority to set a timeline or date for the holding of elections in Guyana. It stated that the country’s Constitution invests that power in the President and the National Assembly. The decision marked a denial to Jagdeo’s submission to the court whereby he asked that it orders that elections be held by September 18, 2019.

Chief Elections Officer, Keith Lowenfield

“It is not, for example, the role of the Court to establish a date on or by which the elections must be held, or to lay down timelines and deadlines that, in principle, are the preserve of political actors guided by constitutional imperatives…”President of the CCJ, Justice Adrian Saunders explained.

Added to the previous requests, Jagdeo also asked that the court set a strict timeline for the appointment of a new GECOM Chairman and that the Commission do away with House-to-House Registration which would create a fresh and credible List of Electors. These, too, were also rejected by the Court. On Wednesday, Commissioners Vincent Alexander, Charles Corbin and Desmond Trotman called out the opposition for a “cockeyed attempt to intimidate the Chief Elections Officer”. They stated that the GECOM Secretariat has long been given the directive to do “all in its powers” to acquire materials and undertake “non-statutory activities” in preparation for elections but cannot act further without the guidance of a Chairman.

“The importance of the statement that the three Commissioners are making is that GECOM is a Constitutional body and, therefore, the decision-making process in GECOM is what is important. Once GECOM makes a decision, no Commissioner can run counter to the decision that GECOM makes,” the AG stated, adding: “GECOM has its remit and GECOM will have to advise His Excellency the President as to its readiness and as to its ability to deliver to the Guyanese people credible elections.”

In 2006, Jagdeo, then President of Guyana, when faced with a similar situation asserted GECOM’s unquestionable independence. “The law says that GECOM shall define the form of verification of the list, or may decide on verification, and will decide on what form it will take. Not the PPP; not the PNC; not any party: GECOM. That’s a constitutional body; independent just like the courts,” he had made clear.

Currently, the President and the Opposition Leader are still in the process of finalising a list of six eligible persons from which the President will select one individual for the post of GECOM Chair.

The Attorney-General reminded the public on Wednesday that although the Opposition Leader is seeking to mislead the nation, there is no limitation to the extension of the three-month period catered for in the constitution.

Article 106 (7) states that “Notwithstanding its defeat, the Government shall remain in office and shall hold an election within three months, or such longer period as the National Assembly shall by resolution supported by not less than two-thirds of the votes of all the elected members of the National Assembly determine…”

Williams stated: “Bear in mind, that under Article 106 (7), if we don’t have the two-thirds you have to fall back on the President because the President is the one who has the power to name an election date by proclamation and also is the same person who dissolves Parliament by proclamation. So, since we under 106 (7), if the two-thirds is not attained, then you have to go to the President and the President, obviously, will name an election date only after he has been advised by GECOM as to its readiness to deliver credible elections.”

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