Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo warned that government is setting the stage for rigging the next General and Regional Elections with its position on the appointment of the Guyana Elections Commisson (GECOM) Chairman together with Citizenship Minister Winston Felix’s control of the issuance of birth certificates.
Jagdeo made this assertion during a press conference yesterday where he also announced that he is prepared to approach the highest court in the Region to rule on the correct interpretation of the Constitution of Guyana.
Further the Opposition Leader strongly believes that President David Granger is playing politics with the matter and therefore announced his intention to have the issue resolved at the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ).
He contended that Attorney General Basil Williams is erroneous in his assertion that the interpretation of the Constitution is at the discretion of the President.
Jagdeo also suspects that Granger is relying on the “Burnham Constitution” – the 1980 Constitution which stipulates that the person to be appointed as GECOM Chairman has to be a Judge or eligible to be a judge only to be appointed by the President unilaterally.
But, he explained that with the process of constitutional reform, the provisions were expanded to include a list of any eligible persons to be nominated as GECOM Chairman and the process by which he/she is to be appointed.
The Opposition Leader highlighted that while individuals would have their own understandings, only the courts can make a determination of the most rightful interpretation.
Jagdeo also believes that the Attorney General is wrong in his interpretation of the constitutional provision which allows for the President to unilaterally appoint a GECOM Chairman.
Williams expressed that the Opposition Leader will have to submit the list several times until “he gets it right… failing which the President will be forced to make an appointment.”
But Jagdeo believes that provision is designed to ensure the country moves forward in the event the Opposition party refuses to participate in the process.
The Opposition Leader proffered these comments during his first press conference of the year on Thursday, at the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) Headquarters, Freedom House, Robb Street.
The Government and the parliamentary Opposition have differing interpretations of the Constitution regarding the appointment of the GECOM Chairman – a situation that has never occurred before in the country’s history.
Article 161 (2) states, “Subject to the provision of paragraph (4), the Chairman of the Elections Commission shall be a person who holds or who has held office as a Judge of a court having unlimited jurisdiction in civil and criminal matters in some part of the Commonwealth or a court having jurisdiction in appeals from any such court, or who is qualified to be appointed as any such Judge, or any other fit and proper person, to be appointed by the President from a list of six persons, not unacceptable to the President, submitted by the Leader of the Opposition after meaningful consultation with the non-governmental political parties represented in the National Assembly.”
President David Granger initially rejected the six nominees submitted by the Opposition Leader following consultations with civil society on the grounds that they do not meet the constitutional requirement of being a Judge or being eligible to become one.
After it was pointed out that the Constitution also caters for persons being “fit and proper”, Government argued that none of the nominees are fit and proper, however no justifications were offered.
President Granger recently contended that the Constitution was breached previously when persons who lacked legal qualifications were appointed as GECOM Chairman.
This means he admitted to participating in an act which violated the Constitution when he accepted the nomination by then Opposition Leader Desmond Hoyte to be the next GECOM Chairman.
After publicly rejecting the list of nominees, the President then formally informed the Opposition Leader of his rejection and requested that a second list be submitted.
In response, Jagdeo requested an urgent meeting with the Head of State to clarify the misinterpretations of the Constitution.
A few days have elapsed and up to press time, Jagdeo indicated that he has not yet received any word from the President on the matter.
Even though the President swore that he was not playing politics in this regard, the Opposition Leader strongly believes otherwise.
Jagdeo contended that Granger’s decision to make his position public instead of formally approaching him on the matter is a demonstration of unprofessionalism.
“The President says he is not playing politics, but I thought that that was a political act because it was done on a Sunday at a media brunch and he knew that by the time we got around to addressing the issue… that an impression would be created that somehow my list that I submitted to him did not meet the constitutional requirement,” Jagdeo argued.
According to Jagdeo, the President’s absence of haste in having the meeting is disappointing and a demonstration of his disinterest in working together for the betterment of the country.
“In almost two years, I never requested a meeting with the President. And I am not requesting a meeting to deal with personal issues. It is to deal with a matter so important to our country and he does not want to meet on the matter,” Jagdeo pointed out.
Justly however, the President did promise to respond to Jagdeo; however, he is yet to do so.
Jagdeo also outlined that at the meeting, if both parties were unable to resolve their differences regarding the interpretation of the Constitution, he would have proposed that both the Opposition and the Government approach the CCJ together seeking a resolution.
However, Jagdeo indicated if Government is unwilling to take this route, then he is prepared to take the matter to the CCJ alone.
Moreover, the Attorney General had argued that “all six persons are required to be acceptable,” but Jagdeo highlighted that he cannot possibly just guess what the President considers to be acceptable.
“He is implying that I must somehow do some astral travel, go into the head of the President and find out how he will assess this ‘fit and proper’. Either that or I should give him a voters list and he should tick off all the names on the voters list that he will find acceptable and then I will select from one of those names on the voters list,” Jagdeo remarked.
Jagdeo also reiterated his concerns about the stage being set to rig the upcoming General and Regional Elections in 2020.
He said his suspicions are compounded by Citizenship Minister Winston Felix having control over the issuance of birth certificates and how Chief Elections Officer (CEO) Keith Lowenfield remaining at GECOM, despite the discrepancies which occurred in the 2015 Elections.
He argued that if the President moves to unilaterally appoint a GECOM Chairman, he will not break the equilibrium the Carter Formula (which was incorporated in the Constitution) seeks to achieve.
Jagdeo said he has already alerted the international community to keep its eyes on Guyana with particular interest on these developments. (Guyana Times)