Apr 08, 2021 News
Kaieteur News – Dominican Senior Counsel, Anthony Astaphan, the lead attorney for the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM), has rebuffed the claims outlined in the election petition challenging the outcome of the March 2, 2020 General and Regional Elections results.
Following the oral presentations yesterday, the Chief Justice (ag), Roxane George-Wiltshire, announced that she had hoped to deliver judgment within two weeks but the arguments and discussions rose additional time for consideration.Moreover, she decided to set April 26, 2021 for the ruling on Elections Petition number #88.In their written submission to the High Court, Petitioners Claudette Thorne and Heston Bostwick, are contending that Section 22 of the Election Laws (Amendment) Act is unconstitutional and that Order No. 60 (the recount order) of 2020 is invalid, null, void, and of no effect.
As such, Thorne and Bostwick have asked the High Court to vitiate the results of the March 2, 2020 elections since in their view, it was substantially not in compliance with the law in relation to the conduct of the elections in Guyana.However, Astaphan told the Chief Justice (ag) yesterday that there was no breach.
According to the GECOM attorney, “Section 22 got its constitutional authority and genesis from the Constitution… Order 60 is entirely consistent with the Constitution also and the purpose was transparent, enacted in good faith and intended to remove the difficulties to allow for a declaration.”
The lawyer noted that since there was difficulty with the elections, Order No. 60 of 2020 was created by virtue of Article 162 (1) (b) of the Constitution and Section 22 of the Election Laws (Amendment) Act to resolve irregularities, discrepancies, and anomalies occurring in the elections process and to determine a final credible count.
In those circumstances, Astaphan told the court, “We are not conceding any breach at all.”
Astaphan argued too, that the petitioners needed to prove total non-compliance with the law, since they have not done so in their written or oral submissions.
The lawyer made specific reference to Article 162 (1) (b) of the Constitution of Guyana.
He noted that “The Acts of Parliament must be read subject to the overriding powers of the Constitution which give GECOM discretion on how the law was to be applied to allow for fair, impartial interpretation of the law.”
Further, the lawyer cited the ruling of Justice Claudette Singh in the case of Esther Pereira versus the Chief Elections Officer.
Astaphan noted that in her ruling, Justice Singh made abundantly clear that in Guyana a mere breach of the law is not sufficient to invalidate the results of an election.
He stressed that “…total non-compliance with the law as held by Justice Singh where she said that no ID [card]… was a substantial non-compliance with constitutional provisions for free and fair elections in Guyana, because it would have had the effect of denying persons the right to vote simply because they did not have an ID card, when in fact, the law would have permitted them to vote, once registered, without an ID card.”
The lawyer noted that for the petitioners to show that there was total non-compliance
“A mere breach is not enough. It has to be a substantial non-compliance that introduces something; introducing a principle that is hostile to the fundamental constitutional principle,” he emphasized.
As such, Astaphan told the Chief Justice that even if she finds that there was a breach, there were no consequences which affected the conduct or result of the count, and therefore the election petition should be dismissed.In his submissions, lead attorney for the petitioners, John Jeremie, asked the court to determine, among other things, questions of whether the elections have been lawfully conducted or whether the results have been, or may have been affected by any unlawful act or omission and in consequence thereof, whether the seats in the National Assembly have been lawfully allocated.
He pointed to a series of claims that he believes would lead the court to discredit the constitutionality of the elections laws or the lawfulness of the recount order, which led to the triumph of the ruling People’s Progressive Party Civic (PPP/C).
According to Jeremie, Order 60 is ultra vires of Article 163 of Guyana’s constitution because the settlement of election disputes has to be settled by an election petition. He added that if GECOM could not make laws, then the order is constitutionally bad.
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