By Feona Morrison
Insisting that general and regional elections must be held on or before September 18, Attorney-at-Law Christopher Ram is now asking the High Court to order the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) to stop the house-to-house registration process which commenced last Saturday, since it is not in keeping with the recent rulings of the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), and more so the Constitution of Guyana, the supreme law.
Apart from seeking a Conservatory Order prohibiting the Guyana Elections Commission, Chief Election Officer, and/or Commissioner of National Registration from conducting or continuing to conduct the current house-to-house registration process, Ram is also seeking an order compelling them to immediately take all steps and actions necessary and requisite to hold General and Regional Elections on or before the 18th day of September 2019, in compliance with Articles 106(6) and 106(7) of the Constitution of Guyana and the decisions of the CCJ.
In a Fixed Date Application (FDA) filed yesterday, Ram said that he has a deep and abiding interest in the rule of law being upheld and the Constitution of Guyana, the supreme law of the land, being obeyed and complied with, by those upon whom it casts duties and responsibilities. Through his lawyer, Ram is also seeking a declaration that the house-to-house registration process is in violation with the aforesaid Articles of the Constitution and the letter and spirit of the judgment and Consequential Orders by the CCJ.
Against this backdrop, he is asking the court to declare that the house-to-house registration process is illegal, unlawful, ultra vires, unconstitutional, null, void and of no effect. Listed as the Respondents in Ram’s application are Chief Elections Officer, Keith Lowenfield, the Commissioner of National Registration, GECOM and Attorney General Basil Williams.
The Respondents, Ram said, have been advised by GECOM’s Legal Adviser (Excellence Dazzell) on several occasions that the house-to-house registration exercise is unconstitutional and unlawful. The Respondents have however ignored the advice, Ram notes in his application before the court. According to Ram, the CCJ has affirmed the passage of the No-Confidence Motion against government which initiated the provisions of Articles 106(6) and 106(7) of the Constitution.
To support his requests, Ram is using the rulings of the CCJ in the consolidated No-Confidence Motion and GECOM chairman appeals. Ram’s application comes up for hearing this morning at 10:00hrs before Chief Justice Roxane George.
PPP Executive Secretary, Zulfikar Mustapha, in an Affidavit in support of Ram’s petition, said he had raised objections to the conduct of house-to-house registration. Mustapha said he is also Chief Scrutineer of the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) assigned to GECOM, and was invited to a meeting to discuss the issue of house-to-house registration by Lowenfield – the Chief Elections Officer – and the Commissioner of National Registration.
According to him, “At the said meeting, I raised objections to the conduct of house-to-house registration which included but was not limited to the pending matters before the Caribbean Court of Justice and the urgent need to refresh the Official List of Electors by way of a Claims and Objections exercise in accordance with the relevant statutory provisions so as to have a list ready for elections to be held within the three months period as contemplated by Articles 106(6) and 106(7) of the Constitution of Guyana.”
Mustapha said that after the meeting he received no communication from the Chief Election Officer and Commissioner of National Registration. He pointed out that PPP is the largest Opposition party and is legally entitled to field Scrutineers to scrutinise any registration process conducted under the National Registration Act and the Amendments thereto.
The PPP Executive Secretary stated, “On 19th July, 2019, I received a letter under the hand of Keith Lowenfield, Chief Election Officer and Commissioner of National Registration, informing of the commencement of House to House Registration Exercise on 20 July 2019. That this letter merely gave me less than one day’s notice, to train and make ready thousands of Scrutineers of the People’s Progressive Party who are expected to participate in the said exercise, rendering it impossible for me to be able to do so.”
Nevertheless, he stated that the registration process has commenced without participation of the largest political party in the National Assembly and indeed in Guyana.
Moreover, Ram in a similar affidavit deemed the decision by the Respondents to commence house-to-house registration as a “willful and flagrant violation of Articles 106(6) and 106(7) of the Constitution of Guyana, and, in deliberate defiance of the Caribbean Court of Justice decisions and Orders.” Counsel Stanley Marcus, appearing for GECOM at the CCJ, had told the court that the house-to-house registration exercise will not be completed before December 25.
Ram pointed out, “(CCJ) Justices Witt, Anderson and President Saunders, emphatically stated, that such exercise concluding on the 25th December, 2019, will clearly violate and contravene that which mandates an election to be held within three (3) months of a passage of No Confidence Motion. When Mr. Marcus persisted with the same line of argument, President Saunders reminded him that the No Confidence Motion was passed since the 21st of December, 2018, and therefore elections should have been held in March, 2019.”
Ram recalled that President Saunders held up the Constitution in his hand and said that the Court has a clear duty to uphold this document and enquired rhetorically, whether Mr. Marcus wants the Court to ignore it, to reject it or to rewrite it. Ram believes that if house-to-house registration is permitted to continue, it will constitute a flagrant violation, not only of the Constitution but on the rule of law and will be an assault on constitutional democracy.
Ram reminded that the CCJ in its ruling said, “The National Assembly properly passed a motion of no confidence in the Government on 21 December 2018; and upon the passage of this motion of no confidence in the Government, the clear provisions of Article 106 immediately became engaged;
“A clear reading of the decisions of the (CCJ) and the Consequential Orders rendered thereof, lends to no other conclusion but that the relevant constitutional actors, being the President and Guyana Elections Commission, must immediately comply with the letter and spirit of Articles 106(6)and 106(7)of the Constitution of Guyana,” Ram stated.
Ram held that the Cabinet including the President must resign and Government shall remain in office and shall hold elections within three months, or such longer period as the National Assembly shall by resolution supported by not less than two-thirds of the vote of all elected members of the National Assembly determine; resign after the President takes the oath of office following an election.
LOSE RIGHT TO VOTE
Both Ram and Mustapha fear that in order to complete house-to-house registration within an impossible time frame it will result in thousands of Guyanese being unlawfully deregistered and will omit to register thousands of qualified registrants, thereby resulting in their loss in their right to vote at the next elections.
“The damage and destruction that will flow, therefore, from this process, not being restrained by this Honourable Court will be immeasurable and irreparable. There is every likelihood that if notice is given to the Respondents they will accelerate this illegal exercise,” Ram argues.
Mustapha also fears that this exercise is not being conducted in a fair, transparent and impartial manner as contemplated by the Constitution and the relevant statutory enactments. Ram submitted that his application is of high constitutional importance as the house-to-house exercise has already commenced and is continuing
“They (the Respondents) have already defied the judgments and orders of the Caribbean Court of Justice and the Constitution and therefore have manifested a clear intention that they are not prepared to be bound by an Order of Court unless it is specific and cast upon them a clear duty to act or refrain from acting,” noted Ram in concluding.
The lawyers involved in this case are Hari Narayan Ramkarran S.C, Anil Nandlall, Marcia Nadir-Sharma, Kamal Ramkarran, Devindra Kissoon, Euclin Gomes, Manoj Narayan, Sasha Mahadeo-Narayan, Rajendra Jaigobin, Mark Conway and George Thomas.
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