Government and the Opposition remain heavily divided as the process to choose a new chairperson for the Guyana Elections Commissions (GECOM) continues.
Yesterday, Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo and his party, the People’s Progressive Party (PPP), both disagreed on the stance of the administration that the list of six nominees contained names who did not meet the requirements of the Constitution of Guyana.
Yesterday, Jagdeo released a letter he dispatched to President David Granger earlier in the day in which he disagreed with the arguments of the Head of State, and said that an urgent meeting is needed to resolve any differences.
Referring to the rejection of the names, Jagdeo noted that the President was arguing that the nominees “do not seem to conform to the requirements of … Article 161(2) …” of the Constitution of the Cooperative Republic of Guyana.
“I have also noted certain comments attributed to Your Excellency by the media made at a function held at State House on the 8th January, 2017, which tend to suggest that you apprehend Article 161(2) to require only persons who are judges, qualified to be Judges, or former judges of, either a court having unlimited jurisdiction in civil and criminal matter or, a court having jurisdiction in appeals from any such court.
If those media reports accurately conveyed your views, then I am obliged to inform Your Excellency that my interpretation of Article 161(2) is different, in so far as, it also provides for, in addition to the category of persons to whom you have referred, “or any other fit and proper person”.”
Jagdeo said that he is requesting the President to clarify what he meant in his statements.
“I am of the considered view that an urgent meeting will immeasurably assist in reconciling any differences of opinion which may exist on this issue.”
Earlier yesterday, the PPP in another statement expressed its “deepest concern” at Granger’s rejection.
“The reasons advanced by President Granger, both in a letter to the Leader of the Opposition, as well as conveyed by the media reporting what the President said at an event held at State House, on the 8th of January, 2016, are indeed bewildering.”
The party, which has been accusing GECOM of manipulating the votes in early general elections of 2015, has been accusing the administration of preparing to name a partisan GECOM chairman who has leanings to the government.
“If the media reports accurately capture the sentiments expressed by the President, then the President’s interpretation of the Constitution is nothing short of a perversion of both the language and the spirit of Article 161(2). It cannot be justified in language, logic, law or, by the antecedent holders of the Office of Chairman of the Guyana Elections Commission.”
According to the PPP, a brief review of the history of those who have held the office of Chairman of Elections Commission from 1992, under the current constitutional or a similar formula, will illustrate that only Doodnauth Singh SC, possessed legal qualifications.
“All the others, were deemed qualified under “the fit and proper person” category. These persons include Rudy Collins, a Career Diplomat, Edward Hopkinson, a Geologist, Joseph Singh, a retired Army General and Dr Steve Surujbally, a Veterinary Doctor. Significantly, Mr. Joseph Singh and Dr. Steve Surujbally, were appointed from lists submitted by the Opposition Leader, Mr. Desmond Hoyte, a Senior Counsel.”
The PPP also noted that the following persons who do not possess legal qualifications were on lists submitted by Mr. Desmond Hoyte to the then President for appointment as Chairman of the Guyana Elections Commission: Edward Hopkinson, Charles Liburd, Joseph Singh, Dennis Craig, David Granger, Gem Fletcher and Harold Davis.
“It is to be noted that the last five names along with Justice Rudolph Harper, were the names submitted by Mr. Hoyte, to President Jagdeo in 2000. Only Mr. Harper, possessed legal qualifications on that list. Is President Granger now saying that Mr. Hoyte SC violated the Constitution? Is he saying that he lent his name to a violation of the Constitution when he accepted his name to be placed on that list since he does not have any legal qualifications?”
PPP argued that when the formula to choose a GECOM chairman was conceived by former US President Jimmy Carter, in 1991, it was designed and intended to achieve consensus between the Government and the Opposition.
“Hence, the list emanates from the Opposition, but must find acceptance with the President. This formula was constitutionalized unanimously in 1995 in the National Assembly. It was retained by the Constitutional Reform Commission 1999-2001. The Speeches in the National Assembly and the notes of the Constitutional Reform Commission lauded the formula for its consensual characteristics.”
TRUST IN GECOM
Additionally, PPP emphasized that GECOM’s composition was also designed to achieve a particular degree of equilibrium. Hence, the composition of three nominees from the governing party and three nominees from the opposition with the chairman holding a balance with the power of a casting vote.
“If the President is permitted to unilaterally appoint a chairman of his own choosing, then it will fundamentally alter that vital balance. This will result in a tremendous loss of confidence in an already publicly impugned elections commission.”
The PPP statement said that though the Opposition Leader was not constitutionally obliged to do so, he held widespread public consultations with almost every major representative organization in the country.
“It is these consultations which produced the list submitted by the Leader of the Opposition to the President. A rejection of this list is therefore a rejection of the voices of all these organizations. Is the President saying that all these organizations have interpreted the Constitution wrongly, and only his interpretation is correct?”
The party, which lost its first elections in 2015 after 23 years in power, said that Granger is the first President who has ever rejected a list submitted by a Leader of the Opposition.
“This is not without significance. We think that this is the beginning of an elaborate plan to rig the next elections. We feel that the President is laying the foundation for the unilateral appointment of a Chairman of GECOM of his own choosing. Such an appointment will not only be unconstitutional but will certainly compromise the integrity of the electoral machinery.”
GECOM’s chairman, Dr. Steve Surujbally, late last year signaled his intentions to resign on November 30, a development that has resulted in the current impasse.
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