Following the announcement that President David Granger had unilaterally selected a new Chairman for the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) in the person of Justice (retd) James Patterson, there has been much debate and controversy surrounding the legality of such a move.
More importantly, this decision has, to a large extent, created deep fear and anguish over the prospect of future elections.
This is according to former Speaker of the National Assembly, Attorney-at-Law Ralph Ramkarran, SC, who, in his weekly column, ‘Conversation Tree’, declared that Guyanese have been victims of rigged elections in Guyana since 1968. More specifically, the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) and its supporters have been those victims.
Ramkarran recalled that for democracy to be restored to Guyana, it took 24 years of hard and painful struggle, during which Guyana’s economic and social development was severely damaged; and he said the country is still recovering from that period.
“The deep fears of the PPP, arising from the initial impasse over the selection of the Chair and now the eventual breakdown of the process, must be instilling deep fear and anguish over the future and the prospect of being rigged out of office for another twenty-five years,” he opined.
Ramkarran was keen to point out that the PPP went to extraordinary lengths over the past 10 months to find 18 Guyanese willing to agree to have their names submitted to President Granger for consideration to be appointed to what he described as one of the most difficult, controversial and thankless of jobs – Chair of GECOM.
And according to him, of the last six names submitted, two immediately stood out and met the President’s criteria of ‘fit and proper,’ which he has been referring to continually.
While many of the other nominees are also well qualified, Ramkarran said, no one can seriously assert that the political persuasion of either of these two men, if any, would influence their decisions.
He was referring specifically to retired Major General Joe Singh and Attorney-at -Law Teni Housty.
Ramkarran noted that Singh had been a highly respected Chief of Staff of the Guyana Defence Force, and was Chair of GECOM for the 2002 elections, which were credibly held. And Housty is a well-respected, well-qualified, senior, experienced, lawyer and former President of the Guyana Bar Association.
Meanwhile, in addressing another matter, Ramkarran said that while the PPP has announced that it would mount a constitutional challenge to the President’s appointment of a Chairman for GECOM, he believes the best time for this was after the President had rejected the first six names, and in so doing had suggested that the names should be of only judges, former judges, or persons qualified to be judges.
“The results of the case, which was filed after the Leader of the Opposition had submitted a second set of names, showed that it could have been possible to obtain an order from the court directing the President to choose a name from that first six,” he explained.
But having submitted two further sets of six names, each at the invitation of the President, the Opposition Leader had been deprived of the opportunity of having the court issue an order in relation to the first six names.
He insisted that the Constitution provides thus: “If the Leader of the Opposition FAILS to submit a list as provided for,” only then can the President proceed unilaterally to make an appointment of a judge, former judge, or person qualified to be a judge to the post of GECOM Chairman.
Ramkarran pointed out that the Opposition Leader had submitted a list which was amended twice by the substitution of names. He said that in that case, the Opposition Leader did not fail to submit a list, and the President’s appointment is therefore void.
Touching on the PPP’s decision of declaring non-cooperation with the Government, Ramkarran said it is not the first time in the PPP’s history that non-cooperation was declared.
He recalled that after the 1973 elections, at which the People’s National Congress (PNC) had seized a two-thirds majority, the PPP had declared non-cooperation and did not take up its seats in the National Assembly for 18 months.
“The PNC did the same after 1992, and did not take up their seats in the National Assembly for long periods of time in the years thereafter.
In both cases, the respective governments had carried on their business with little disruption, but with great bitterness.
“Based on past history with the PPP and PNC, the PPP’s non-cooperation would mean very little in practical terms to the government’s agenda,” Ramkarran asserted.