Last week the Carter Center once more became involved in local politics. Guyana became a hotspot after the vote of a no confidence motion on December 21, last year. That vote sparked numerous legal views, all of them rooted in the constitution.
For the first time I realized that the constitution is not a document that should be taken section by section. The part that sparked the most confusion dealt with the resignation of the government in the wake of a failed no confidence vote.
That section said that the Cabinet should resign. And resign it should and did. This meant that the business of the government should be put on hold until a new government takes office. But the government said that it has gone to the courts and that any action should wait until a definitive decision by the courts.
However, there was the clause that determined that elections should be held within ninety days of the no confidence vote. For elections to be held, the Guyana Elections Commission must signal its readiness. This commission is independent of any political intervention.
So here we have a situation. The president is being asked to name a date when another section of the constitution states that he must be advised by the elections commission before he could do so. This certainly was ignored by the political opposition, who quite correctly argued that the commission should always be in a state of readiness.
Indeed, I have seen snap elections called in other Caribbean countries. There is no question of the elections commission not being ready. But Guyana is a different kettle of fish. There was a question of the voters’ list, which all the commissioners agreed was bloated.
If the list is indeed bloated, and I said so from the time the country was preparing for local government elections, then it must be sanitized. There could be court challenges to any election that appears to have been tainted.
The political opposition said, however, that bloated or otherwise, since the list was used for the local government elections, it could be used for the general elections. The commission itself said that it was working to sanitise the list.
It argued that it was working within a timeframe that would put it in a state of readiness for elections in 2020. Part of the sanitization programme involved house to house registration. The opposition argued that if there is to be house to house registration then the ninety-day timeline could not be met.
For starters, there is a large overseas population that actually comes to Guyana to vote. The Carter Center suggested that the commission could sanitise the list by removing the migrant Guyanese. As though this is an easy task, the Carter Center suggested that the commission could involve the immigration department.
The law states that an individual must be resident in the country for a period of nine months in order to be allowed to vote.
With all these things on hand, the commission by a majority vote insisted that there be house to house registration. Acting on the advice of the commission, President David Granger suggested that he could fix a date by November. The opposition leader said that this was unacceptable.
There were some other factors. The ninety-day period did not end on March 21, 2019 as was so loudly touted. The Carter Center quoted the Act which said that the actual deadline was March 22.
But so set was the opposition that the deadline was March 22, that on that date, it organized countrywide protests. In the city, one former Minister actually dubbed Granger a former president, although the constitution said that the president should remain in office until a new president is sworn in.
Then came the decision by the Guyana Court of Appeal that overturned the decision by the High Court. The Court of Appeal decision nullified the no confidence vote. It endorsed the right of the government to remain in office.
It is here that things get interesting. I have seen the chats on social media that seem to suggest something that everyone wants to ignore; that there is a sharp racial divide in the country. And this divide is accentuated only when elections loom.
People forget that decisions are rooted in law. In the case of Guyana, any decision can be tested by the highest court, the Caribbean Court of Justice.
True, there was a dissenting decision and those bent on beating the race drum have taken note of the ethnicity of the dissenter.
I remember when the Jagdeo challenge for a third term went to the High Court, Justice Ian Chang ruled that the challenge had merit and should be upheld. The matter went to the Guyana Court of Appeal and was upheld. Again there was a dissenting vote. Once more, as is the case now, the dissenter was of a different ethnicity from those voting to uphold the decision.
The Caribbean Court of Justice upheld that dissenting decision and put the matter to rest once and for all. Once more this court is going to be asked to determine the final outcome of the matter.
The government is now, by the decision of the court, able to summon Parliament. Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo had said that he would not be going to parliament unless it is to determine funding for the holding of elections.
That is not going to be the case. It now remains to be seen whether he would maintain his position. He had also said that any decision taken by the government would be illegal after March 22, 2019. He did not consider the ruling by the Guyana Court of Appeal.
There are going to be decisions until the appeal court’s ruling is overturned. Would he consider these decisions illegal?
That apart, the campaign for elections is truly on. I have heard repeated statements that those in Government actually became inaccessible to the voters. People called them and could not gain access. People wrote letters and were ignored.
One young woman spoke of repeated efforts to access Foreign Minister Carl Greenidge and was ignored. She sent a letter to President Granger and got an acknowledgement.
This past month, there has been a concerted move to make contact with the very voters who said they were ignored. Why was this not a continuous effort all along? Were Ministers aloof?
Even press conferences were rarities. Ministers were not keen to advertise their progress and other developments. If indeed the government is to remain in office until November, then what has suddenly started should be continuous.
Meanwhile, the opposition is working assiduously among its supporters as it has always been doing since it vacated office. I see the letters in the press; I see the comments from people who were once associated with the then government. They are prolific writers. The same cannot be said for the government supporters.
Whatever the case, as Finance Minister Winston Jordan once said, the elections will be the mother of all elections, and I agree with him.
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