– To seek injunction to halt process
– Govt. and Opposition clash over role of President in GECOM’s chair selection
Workers of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) fanned out yesterday across the country to start house-to-house registration but the Opposition has called on its supporters to not cooperate.
Opposition Leader, Bharrat Jagdeo, in a Facebook video yesterday, hours after, signaled intentions to approach the courts tomorrow for an injunction to halt the registrations.
It will mean both the Government and the Opposition are defiantly standing on opposite grounds on an issue that has heavily divided the nation.
The Opposition says it is convinced that the registrations is an excuse to delay early elections brought on by the historic December 21 no-confidence motion
The response was but one of many warnings sounded by the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) in recent days.
According to the Opposition Leader, supporters have been calling expressing worry over the ongoing house-to-house registrations.
He was convinced that the ongoing countrywide exercise is being done in contravention of rulings and orders of the Caribbean Court of Justice.
Jagdeo singled out GECOM’s Chief Elections Officer, Keith Lowenfield, as proceeding without any legal basis based on an order signed by Justice (ret’d) James Patterson who was “illegally appointed” Chairman but now resigned.
According to Jagdeo, that order of Patterson, which appeared in the Official Gazette of June 11, was overtaken by CCJ ruling of July 12th.
The law says otherwise. Lawyers know this and have said as much.
GECOM must comply with the Constitution, which called for elections within three months after a no-confidence motion against a government would have been passed.
Jagdeo said that the GECOM exercise would be done without a functioning Commission.
It was “hurriedly started” and will prove problematic because of the ways it is being done.
The Opposition Leader made it clear that his party was not informed officially of the need to have scrutineers tracking this house-to-house exercise. It is required that the forms used to register must be signed.
He said that the PPP will not be cooperating with the activity and will tomorrow approach the courts to seek an injunction to halt it.
According to Jagdeo, the PPP has briefed international organizations with a number of them expressing grave concerns and calling on the actors to comply with the Constitution and the orders of the CCJ.
The CCJ had upheld the validity of the December no-confidence vote in the National Assembly, which saw the more then three-year-old Coalition falling after one of its Members of Parliament, Charandass Persaud, joined with the Opposition.
The one-seat Coalition Government, according to the Constitution, was declared to be defeated and was supposed to resign but remain until elections are held in three months.
The challenge by the Government to the vote was taken all the way to the CCJ.
The CCJ is asking for the parties to seek a consensual way forward in choosing a new GECOM chair. It called on them to adhere to the Constitution.
The CCJ stopped short of actually announcing an elections date, stating that it will be overreaching.
On Friday, President David Granger during a taped interview, insisted that his Government is complying with the June court rulings of the CCJ and the subsequent orders issued recently.
He said that his administration showed good faith by engaging the Opposition on six occasions since June. He would have addressed the nation three times since then.
“The purpose of the engagements is to ensure we have credible elections in the shortest possible time. There is no chairperson, as I had invited former Chairman Justice Patterson and we agreed that he will demit office.
“The Commission cannot function without a Chairman and so we have put a lot of emphasis to ensure a chairman is in place.”
Granger disagreed that he should not have a say in suggesting names for six nominees for the position of GECOM’s Chair.
While the Constitution says that the Opposition Leader has to submit the names, the President said that recent CCJ orders called for consensus, which allows him a say before the list of six comes to him for a final decision.
“I am not sure that the Opposition understands the implications of the ruling by the CCJ. The CCJ made it clear that it is not altering the Constitution…it is interpreting the Constitution by suggesting that we move away from unilaterism, which is why the appointment of Justice Patterson was flawed– towards consensualism.”
Granger said that this means that if the President of Guyana has a role to play in the selection of the chair, the process will be fast and both sides will be happier at the end of it because there would be agreement during the stage of the process of the appointment.
“I can only do that if I am involved. I am not a passive participant. I am an active participant in the process and this is what I have been trying to do and what I have been trying
to get the Opposition to understand.”
Granger said that he cannot simply sit and wait for them to send a list.
“This is what failed in the past. And this is what forced me to rely on the proviso in the Constitution empowering me to appoint the Chairman if the list submitted by the Opposition was not in accordance with the Constitution. So it is important that we pay attention to the letter and spirit of the Constitution.”
According to Granger, without his input, it is a recipe for gridlock.
The aim is to have a list of candidate, which is not unacceptable to the President.
“Unless we accept that principle, we will end up in gridlock. This is what we are heading for if the Opposition continues to deny the president a role to bring out that list.
I believe that ruling by the CCJ is quite useful, quite functional that can lead to an early conclusion to the process. There is no way that the removal of the president role in the crafting of that list can result in an outcome that is consensual.
It will be spurious if the Opposition insists on exclusively crafting that list… unilaterally crafting that list. The CCJ ruling makes it impossible for that to occur.”
Meanwhile, the PPP emphatically rejected the President’s insistence on submitting names to himself for the appointment of a chairperson of GECOM.
The unilateral appointment of Justice (Rtd) James A. Patterson, by the President, was declared flawed, in violation of the Article 161(2) of the Constitution and unlawful on the specific ground that the President appointed one from his own choosing, despite 18 names submitted to him by the Leader of the Opposition.
Now the President stubbornly insists on doing the same thing.
We maintain, most resolutely, that the President’s interpretation of the CCJ’s ruling in the Zulfikar Mustapha’s case is both warped and disingenuous.”
The PPP said that the court rulings in essence called for the Cabinet to resign; that a date must be fixed for elections on or before 18 September 2019; that Parliament must be dissolved and that the Government remains in office merely as a caretaker until those elections are held.
“This kind of flip flopping forces us to unfortunately question his sincerity, good faith, honour and integrity in the discharge of his constitutional role and function.
“The President now speaks of a “gridlock” while the engagement is still ongoing. We have submitted four additional names and we are awaiting an indication of whether the President finds them not unacceptable.”
The Opposition questioned whether the informal engagement has been aborted.
“If so, the President is obliged to invite the Leader of the Opposition to formally submit six names for the appointment of a Chairman of GECOM in light of the CCJ’s judgment quashing the appointment of Justice (rtd) James Patterson. The Leader of the Opposition remains committed to engage until there is agreement on a final list of six names to be submitted to the President.”
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