By Ramona Luthi
In a packed People’s Progressive Party (PPP) Public Forum at the Umana Yana tonight, Opposition Leader Dr Bharrat Jagdeo stated that based on the outcome of the selection of a Chairman for the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM), Guyanese will be able to understand the Government’s hidden agenda.
According to Jagdeo, with the way in which a matter as simple as selecting a new GECOM Chairman has spun into a controversial issue, the citizens of Guyana should be aware that there is a possibility that the administration could become “more repressive and return to their old ways” of rigging the elections.
“This issue has caused a lot of trepidation in the lives of many Guyanese, (this) issue is a crossroad (issue and) how it is resolved will have a lasting impact,” he said.
He admonished that over the period that the APNU-AFC Government has been in power, a pattern has been forming, pointing to the many cases of lack of transparency on their part among other issues.
Jagdeo called for all Guyanese-supporters and non-supporters- to take a position on the GECOM Chairman controversy highlighting that it is a “vital issue that all Guyanese should get engaged in because of the influence this will have on our lives.” He also noted that if necessary, he will press for the issue-because of its importance- to be taken to an international level.
In relation of the fact that the President of Guyana, David Granger has not met with Jagdeo with regards to the interpretation of Article 161 (2) in the Constitution of the Co-operative Republic of Guyana, the Opposition Leader has described this as “laughable.”
After Jagdeo requested to meet with the President on the interpretation of the Constitution, a response was sent indicating that the matter will be dealt with at the level of an Attorney General, where the Minister of Legal Affairs, Basil Williams SC will meet with Jagdeo and an Attorney at Law selected by the PPP/C.
According to the Former President, this action of Granger’s has caused many persons of the public to speculate that he [Granger] refuses to meet with Jagdeo either because he is “getting bad advice from an incompetent Attorney General” or that he aims to appoint someone of his choice that will help to rig the elections in favour of the APNU-AFC government.
“If the second interpretation is true then I can see why the President doesn’t want a meeting. No amount of legal arguments-as strong as they are- will change his opinion because he will not be swayed by legal arguments because he is already hell bent on getting his way. There is hope if the first view is the relevant one.”
However, the Opposition Leader asserted that he will be meeting with Attorney at Law, Basil Williams to interpret the Constitution.
Jagdeo highlighted that history is on the PPP/C’s side, in reference to the interpretation of the Constitution as the architectures of the Constitution- Former Presidents Cheddi Jagan and Desmond Hoyte- abided by the same interpretation, he proclaimed.
The controversy on the matter revolves around the difference in interpretation of the Opposition Leader and the Government on Article 161 (2) of the Guyana Constitution on the appointment of a new GECOM Chairman.
The relevant section of the Constitution states, “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.”
The Opposition’s understanding conforms to the updated Constitution, which incorporates the Carter Formula to have a democratic process for the appointment of a chairman.
The Carter Formula is designed and intended to achieve consensus between Government and the Opposition regarding the appointment of GECOM’s Chairman.
GECOM’s composition was also designed to achieve a certain degree of equilibrium, hence three nominees from the governing party and three from the Opposition, with the Chairman holding a balance of power with a casting vote.
Granger’s interpretation on the other hand seems to reflect the old 1980 Constitution, commonly known as the “Burnham Constitution”, which limits the pool of persons to be appointed to GECOM’s helm to only judges or those eligible to be a judge. This version of the Constitution also gives the President the power to unilaterally appoint a GECOM Chairman.
Attorney General Basil Williams and Vice President Khemraj Ramjattan had both signalled Government’s intention to activate a clause in the Constitution to allow the President to unilaterally appoint a GECOM Chair.
Such a move would be dangerous as it alters the democratic process regarding the appointment of a person to be tasked with overseeing the elections process in the country.