Persons have asked about the purpose of the most recent statement made by Sir Shridath Ramphal, concerning the situation in Guyana. The former Commonwealth Secretary General and Attorney General of Guyana would be the best person to answer that.
He along with others, I am sure would not like to see Guyana become the only non-free state in the western hemisphere, something which was alluded to in a recent statement by the Secretary of State of the United States of America. It is extremely bizarre that forces within GECOM and APNU+AFC actually feel that they could have gotten away with highway robbery.
I am convinced, however, that having played a role in resolving a previous election controversy in 1997, the eminent former diplomat feels that he should lend his voice to the search for a democratic resolution to the present impasse.
It should be recalled that this column had supported the purposive interpretation of the Representation of the People Act and for a liberal interpretation of the Constitution when it comes to election matters.
Sir Shridath’s letter has a bearing on the latter. He recalled that when Guyana became an independent state there was a collective pledge which the people made to each other and which was reflected in the country’s independence Constitution and succeeding versions.
The pledge, according to the former legal luminary, was that the people acknowledged and affirmed that ‘respect for the inherent dignity and the equal and inalienable rights of all persons are the foundations of freedom, justice and peace in society’; ‘the entitlement of all to the fundamental rights and freedoms of the individual’; and `’recognised that these rights and freedoms are best established and secured in a democratic society founded upon the rule of law’”.
He noted that the very first Article of all of Guyana’s Constitutions from 1966 to 1980 was the declaration: Guyana shall be a sovereign democratic State”. He said that the present Constitution commits the nation to the establishment of a democratic state.
A more authoritative source cannot be found. Sir Shridath was one of the architects of the 1966 and 1970 Constitutions which retained the collective pledge to establish a sovereign and democratic state.
Constitutional interpretation – the role of the court – cannot ignore these foundational principles and values. It follows therefore that any interpretation of the Constitution must be of such that it gives expression to the democratic values enshrined in the Constitution.
A Constitution established on an affirmation of support for democratic values must, of necessity, be interpreted liberally, so as to give effect to this democratic foundation. I would go as far as asserting that it is now settled dogma that Constitutions must be given the widest possible amplitude, so as to give effect to its fundamental values.
As part of the democratic values of a state, every citizen has a right to choose a government of his or her choice at elections held, in the case of Guyana, every five years. This is also part of the agreement which was forged after Independence, but which we know was denied the people from 1968 to 1992.
Rigging is an offence against every citizen. While it is political parties which contest elections, the rigging of elections does not disadvantage just those parties who were the victims of electoral malpractice. Rigging affects every citizen, regardless of how that person voted. It says to them that their choice does not matter; that what matters is what the riggers decide.
Rigging deprives a person’s right to elect a government of his or her choice. When an election is rigged, it nullifies that person’s choice. It effectively means that someone else will choose for you.
And the consequences of this are obvious. Those who do not respect the people’s choices will not be accountable to the people and may not respect their fundamental human rights. They cannot be trusted with respecting the Constitution and the independence of the judiciary, as we saw in the past.
It is expected that those entrusted with interpreting the country’s Constitution would do so in a manner which acknowledges the pledge which, according to Sir Shridath, our people made to each other to establish a sovereign democratic state.
(The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of this newspaper)
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