– APNU+AFC Georgetown supporters tell regional community that CCJ has no jurisdiction on current elections case
By Lisa Hamilton
APNU+AFC protesters, from various parts of the country, took to the streets on Monday morning, ahead of the Caribbean Court of Justice’s (CCJ’s) decision, expected on Wednesday, to make clear their position that the Court has no jurisdiction on the current Guyana elections case.
The groups of protesters were present in Georgetown at locations such as Mandela Avenue, Agricola and Buxton and even all the way in Linden. They were clad in party colours, face masks and held up placards while practising physical distancing.
Their messages included: ‘CCJ Must Respect Guyana’s Constitution’, ‘CEO Guided by our Final Court’; ‘Respect Our Sovereignty’ and more.
They based their position on Article 177 (4) of the Constitution which states: “The Court of Appeal shall have exclusive jurisdiction to hear and determine any question as to the validity of an election of a President in so far as the question depends upon the qualification of any person for election or the interpretation of this Constitution; and any decision of that Court under this paragraph shall be final.”
The Guyana Chronicle approached a number of protesters stretched along the Mandela Avenue where persons were present from Constituencies No. 11, 12, 13 and 14. Guyana Youth and Student Movement (GYSM) Chairman Ryan Belgrave told the newspaper that the demonstrations were meant as a reminder to Guyanese locally and members of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), that Guyana is a sovereign State and demands that it’s Constitution be respected.
“The Caribbean Community, in the form of the CCCJ, is presently considering a case which was brought before it where, if the CCJ finds some reason to declare that it has jurisdiction on this matter, we believe that it will be an erosion of our Constitution which basically spells out clearly that, in this particular matter, the Court of Appeal is the final arbiter,” he put forward.
Belgrave said that if jurisdiction is assumed on the matter, this stands not only to affect future cases in Guyana but around the Caribbean. “It is a regional body and everything that it does has some amount of impact on the Region. We in the coalition are not saying — as persons have had the knee jerk action — that we must get out of CARICOM. No, we understand the necessity for this regional integration movement, we are one of those that pushed for CARICOM to be here to stay but, at the same time, our sovereignty must be respected, “the GYSM Chairman reasoned.
Meanwhile, Councillor of the Georgetown City Council, Denroy Tudor, holding up his own placard, said that the Constitution is clear and CCJ cannot play a blind eye to it.
“We’re just asking that the CCJ respect the Constitution of Guyana. Article 177 (4) directly and clearly states as to the Court of Appeal being the final Court on the matter. There is nothing that explicitly states that the CCJ has any jurisdiction concerning the matter that is before the Court so it’s quite odd and interesting that the CCJ would entertain any hearing or any submissions from any of the parties concerning this matter,” he said.
Further down the line of protesters, the newspaper spoke with Manager of Constituency No. 12, Robert Wayne-Mason. He said: “The law is very clear that the Caribbean Court of Justice does not have jurisdiction over this matter and if our Appeal Court, which is the highest Court that can make a decision on this matter, said that the Chief Elections Officer of GECOM must pronounce on valid votes…they must respect that.”
Yvonne Ferguson representing Constituency No. 11 told the newspaper: “The message we’re sending out here today is to let the CCJ know we stand strong and they can’t turn back the Appeal Court’s ruling because valid votes are valid votes.”
She told the newspaper that she had brought out a group of about 12 persons to protest from her Constituency. Questioned whether she felt it was right for her and other APNU+AFC supporters to be out during the COVID-19 restrictions protesting, Ferguson said:
“We should be allowed to protest our rights because all of us are adhering to the rules. We have our masks, we even have our hand sanitisers with us and we are distancing six feet apart, so, we are cooperating with the rules.”
Similar sentiments were shared by Dexter Forde of Constituency No. 12 who said: “We are all observing the rules as far as it relates to the six feet distancing and we are wearing our masks. Whether we have the right or not, we’re are at a junction right now in our country where we have to stand up and represent our Constitution and whatever consequences come behind, we are out here willing to accept that. We’re not willing to accept a violation of our Constitution, those are bigger stakes.” About an hour or so into the protest action, the police arrived along Mandela Avenue and requested that the community leaders urge their supporters to disperse due to the COVID-19 measures in place.
On July 8, the CCJ will hand down its decision on whether it can assume jurisdiction in a challenge seeking to set aside the ruling of the Court of Appeal that the election of the President must be on the basis of “valid votes.”