Legitimacy of Govt on shaky ground after Sept 18 – Ram

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…as no parliamentary extension means time running out for Govt

In the absence of a parliamentary extension of the Government’s time in office as set out by the Constitution when a no-confidence motion is passed, the clock is ticking on the Government’s legitimacy.

In an interview with Inews, prominent activist and lawyer Christopher Ram expressed concern at the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) recent pronouncement that it could end up holding elections in March 2020.

“That would be inconsistent, not only with the new Chairperson of GECOM’s commitment to have elections as soon as possible, but also inconsistent with the Constitution and the ruling of the Caribbean court. It means that what we will have is the defiance by GECOM of the ruling of the highest court of the land and the Constitution.”

“This very act will amount to an abrogation of all the norms of democracy. That will lead us into really dangerous territory. We’ve had situations in the past when elections weren’t held on time, for example in 1978 and 1990. But never were those elections postponed in defiance of a court order.”

Christopher Ram

Ram also noted that this period would be a test not only for democracy in Guyana, but the international community, including the Caribbean Community (Caricom). Persons have previously called out the international community for their relative silence on President David Granger’s failure to name an election date after losing the no-confidence motion of 2018.

“This will be a test of the civil society of Guyana. It will be a test of the Constitution. It will be a test of the international community, Caricom, of the Commonwealth Secretariat. We (risk) becoming a pariah state,” Ram warned.

March 2020

After a more than four-hour-long meeting on Friday last, both Opposition and Government-aligned Commissioners disclosed to media operatives that March 2020 was one of several timelines proposed by the Secretariat.

Government-aligned Commissioner Vincent Alexander confirmed that March 2020 was one of the dates discussed during the meeting. According to the Commissioners, one of the activities proposed to be undertaken by GECOM during that period is the printing of new national identification cards.

However, Commissioner Bibi Shadick contended that such an initiative was unnecessary.

She pointed out that ID cards were not needed to vote, as any other form of identification, such as a passport, was accepted. In lieu of any such documents, she said voters could sign an oath at the polling stations.

No-confidence motion

A no-confidence motion was passed against the Government since December 21 of last year. However, elections were not held and there was no resignation. Instead, the Government went through several levels of court, unsuccessfully arguing that the no-confidence motion was not validly passed.

At the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), the final court had thrown out the Government’s case and had handed down judgement, saying that when the no-confidence motion was passed on December 21, 2018, Article 106 of the Constitution had immediately been activated. In addition, the Court had noted that the provisions of the article were clear.

Caribbean Court of Justice

Instead of immediately starting serious preparations to hold elections in the shortest possible time; however, GECOM proceeded to carry out House-to-House Registration based on the orders of unilaterally appointed former Chairman, retired Justice James Patterson. Ram himself filed a court case challenging this process and sought to have GECOM comply with the Constitution.

While that process was ultimately stopped by his successor, the decision to merge the new data from House-to-House Registration and to prioritise the printing of ID, instead of seeking to have elections held as soon as possible, has been criticised by People’s Progressive Party (PPP)-nominated GECOM Commissioners as part of the Government’s delaying tactics.

In the 2000 Esther Perreira election petition case, then Justice Claudette Singh had ordered that elections must be held by March 31, 2001. Particularly, Justice Singh had ruled that the requirements for voters to have an ID card for the 1997 elections was a breach of Articles 59 and 159 of the Constitution and that the elections were null and void.

The PPP has, therefore, contended that prioritising ID cards over early elections is a case of putting the cart before the horse.