The outcome of the elections of 2nd March 2020 will not be decided today by the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ); it will be decided later this week by the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM).
It is unfortunate that expectations are being engineered on both sides of the political divide that today’s verdict by the CCJ is decisive to the outcome of the elections. This is far from the truth and it is regrettable that so many persons are misinformed as to what is taking place at the CCJ today.
The ruling today has nothing to do with who has won the elections. There is only one winner today and that is constitutional certainty. The case before the CCJ is about the interpretation of Guyana’s Constitution; it will not decide who will govern Guyana for the next five years.
It does not matter how the CCJ rules today. The Chairperson of GECOM has to declare the results and announce the winner. In so doing she is not bound by any nefarious report of the Chief Elections Officer.
In making a declaration she is required to only be advised by the Chief Elections Officer. Advice does not imply acceptance. As was the case in the past when there was an erroneous calculation of the results of the 2011 elections, GECOM can refuse to accept an erroneous report and send it back for amendment.
There is a history to this issue about the GECOM Chairman being advised by the Chief Elections Officer. In the 1997 elections, former Chairman of the Commission, Doodnauth Singh, made a declaration without even informing the full Commission. This was because he was prescient enough to foresee the plot which was being hatched by the PNC to force an annulment of the declaration of a President. He therefore swore in Janet Jagan as President in order to avoid a greater crisis. One Commissioner was so aggrieved that she broke down into tears upon learning of the decision. Don’t ask me why.
During the Constitutional Reform process which followed those elections, certain changes were made to the Constitution to avoid a declaration being made before a full meeting of the Commission was summoned. Among the amendments made therefore was that the Chairman should first be advised by the Chief Elections Officer and that there has to be a meeting of the Commission. The intent was clearly to prevent a declaration being made behind the backs of the Commission but the constitutional changes were never intended to bind the Chairperson or the Commission to whatever report was submitted by the Chief Elections Officer. Were this so, it would invert Article 161 of the Constitution which gives the Commission overriding powers over the electoral process.
Charles Dickens was wrong. The law is not an ass. The law will not condone an entire election being decided on the basis of the dishonest declarations by two men. The law did not countenance the Bingo numbers and it will not subscribe to any similar electoral perversion.
If the law ever reaches that stage, then the law can no longer protect the people and the rule of law can be said to have been extinguished.
If the Constitution becomes worthless, then tyranny reigns supreme. The Constitution protects your right to free speech. Without the protection of the Constitution, you can be silenced.
The Constitution protects your freedom of movement. Without this protection your freedom to move can be restrained. The Constitution prevents you from being arbitrarily arrested or imprisoned. Without the protection of the Constitution, the government will be free to throw you in jail at their whim.
The law is not an ass and those who believe that they can do as they please and get away with it will have to answer to the law because without such accountability, there is no protection.
Guyana must remain a country planted thick with laws. No one man must assume that he is above the law or for that matter the Constitution. If that materializes, all of us are in mortal danger.
The decision today is not about who wins the elections. It is rather about ensuring the protection of the rule of law through the rightful interpretation of the Constitution.
(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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