…Christopher Ram seeks order compelling GECOM to hold elections by Sept 18
A court challenge has been mounted against the House-to-House Registration being carried out by the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM), this time by anti-corruption advocate and Attorney-at-Law Christopher Ram.
The Notice of Application (NOA) and Fixed Date Application (FDA) challenging the House-to-House exercise was filed in the High Court on Monday, by the law office of former Attorney General Anil Nandlall. The hearing will come up today before Chief Justice Roxanne George.
According to the particulars of the fixed date affidavit, Ram is seeking declarations from the court that House-to-House Registration is a breach of Article 106 (6 and 7) of the Constitution of Guyana. Ram is also seeking a declaration that the exercise is in breach of the recent Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) rulings.
In view of this, Ram is seeking a conservatory order from the court, prohibiting GECOM from lawfully continuing the exercise. He is also seeking an order compelling GECOM and the Chief Elections Officer (CEO), Keith Lowenfield, to take steps to hold elections by September 18 of this year.
To support his case, Ram noted the fact that GECOM’s lawyer, Stanley Marcus, had told the CCJ that if House-to-House Registration was carried out, the earliest it would be completed would be Christmas. At the time, CCJ Judges Jacob Witt and Adrian Saunders had noted that such an exercise would, therefore, violate the Constitution of Guyana.
“When Mr Marcus persisted with the same line of argument, Saunders reminded him that the No-Confidence Motion was passed since the 21st of December, 2018, and, therefore, elections should have been held in March 2019, and with obvious exasperation, President Saunders held up the Constitution in his hand and said that the Court has a clear duty to uphold this document and enquired rhetorically, whether Mr Marcus wants the Court to ignore it, to reject it or to rewrite it” Ram’s application states.
Ram also pointed to the fact that GECOM’s own in house counsel, Excellence Dazzell, had advised against the exercise since it would delay elections by months. Her advice was disregarded.
It noted that many experts in electoral matters and even three GECOM Commissioners have pointed out that the exercise cannot be properly carried out in three months and will have grave implications for the validity of the electoral list it produces.
“The Applicant fears that in order to complete this House-to-House Registration within an impossible timeframe, it will result in thousands of Guyanese being unlawfully deregistered and will omit to register thousands of qualified registrants, thereby resulting in their loss in their right to vote at the next elections,” Ram stated in his application. It is understood that the case will come up in the High Court today.
The House-to-House exercise, which was last conducted in 2008, will see enumerators in teams of two to three, going from door to door in various communities across Guyana. The enumerators will present forms to registrants to complete, as well as take fingerprints and pictures.
In an advertisement by GECOM, it is stated that these enumerators work from 15:30h to 18:30h during the week and from 09:00h to 16:00h on weekends and holidays. The exercise is intended to produce a new National Register of Registrants database and Official List of Electors.
This means that everyone, regardless of whether they were registered before or not, must register anew at their place of residence between July 20 and October of this year.
The requirement for proof of residency has alarmed overseas-based Guyanese to the point where a court case was filed by an overseas-based Guyanese against House-to-House Registration on the basis that it would disenfranchise her.
In her court filings, Bibi Zeenatoun, a retired teacher and citizen of Guyana, had sought writs of prohibition and injunction and a conservatory order against GECOM.
Her fixed date application explained that she worked in the United Kingdom from 1980 until her retirement in 2014. She then acquired property and maintained a residence in that country. Besides her citizenship, however, she has family ties to Guyana that include an adult son and his two children.
According to the application, Zeenatoun “fears that she will be excluded from the proposed exercise of House-to-House Registration and thereby, in effect, be de-registered and in consequence thereof, and she will be unlawfully denied her statutory and constitutional right to be registered and to vote”.
“The applicant’s right to vote will and can be protected if the respondents were to engage in Continuous Registration as provided for in Section 6 (1) of the National Registration Act, Cap 19:08,” the application advised.
There has also been much debate on whether the exercise can go forward since the former Chairman who signed the order, Retired Justice Patterson, was found by the CCJ to have been unconstitutionally appointed.
Additionally, GECOM has said that House-to-House Registration will take 90 days, further delaying elections that should have been held since March 21.