-One of the darkest days of our fledgling democracy- Jagdeo
By Ramona Luthi
President David Granger on Thursday said that it was the Opposition Leader’s failure to provide suitable nominees for the position of the new Chairman of the Guyana Elections Commission that forced him to appoint retired judge, Justice James Patterson to the post, even though he is one of the legal advisors to the Minister of Legal Affairs and Attorney General, Basil Williams.
“I have not dragged on the process. He [Opposition leader, Dr Bharrat Jagdeo] has been the one who has brought three lists before me and all of the lists were flawed, all of the lists were unacceptable,” Granger told media operatives just after the swearing in of the new GECOM Chairman at State House on Thursday evening.
According to the President, it has been 10 months since a GECOM Chairman was being sought and so Government took it upon themselves to conduct searches for a suitable candidate as well.
“We had to search as you’ve realised for the 10 months of this year, we had to depend on the Leader of the Opposition to come up with a list that was not unacceptable so we [Government] have been searching as well,” he explained.
Granger noted that he believes 84-year-old Patterson is ‘fit and proper’ for the post, in accordance with the Constitution of Guyana.
“We feel that given his [Patterson’s] experience, he’s a former Chief Justice of Grenada, he has long judicial service and I feel that he’s a fit and proper person so it is important for the reason that I mentioned that we bring this search to an end and get on with the business of Governing Guyana.”
When probed as to what makes the former Judge ‘fit and proper’, the President reiterated that it was the man’s long judicial service and years of experience that made him suitable.
Meanwhile, the new GECOM Chairman poked holes in Granger’s statements to the media that he had been holding his own consultations with possible candidates, when he [Patterson] revealed that he was never approached for the position until Thursday evening- hours before he was told that he would be sworn in for the position.
“I was never approached prior to tonight [Thursday],” Patterson said.
Furthermore, when probed as to why he thinks he is the best candidate for the position of the new GECOM Chairman, Patterson told the media “my opinion doesn’t matter…It’s the selector’s opinion that matters and he thinks that I’m the best person for this job.”
Earlier this evening, at a meeting between the President and the Opposition Leader, Dr Bharrat Jagdeo to discuss the third list of nominees, Granger revealed that he had found the list “unacceptable.”
Afterwards, the President unilaterally selected Patterson to be the new Chairman of the Guyana Elections Commission.
Following the meeting with the President, Jagdeo in a press briefing before the swearing in ceremony said that this was Government’s plan from the inception, highlighting his belief that their intention was to “frustrate” him into folding by rejecting his nominees.
However, Jagdeo explained that after he continued to provide names- list after list- Granger brought his “charade” to an end and chose to appoint someone of his own choice.
According to Jagdeo, Granger has acted undemocratically and in defiance of the Court ruling by the Chief Justice.
The Opposition leader posited that “it is our firm view that…the President has violated the letter and spirit of article 161 of the Constitution, which clearly provides for a process, which requires the Leader of the Opposition to submit six (6) names to the President from which the President is required to choose one (1). This unilateral unconstitutional appointment also destroys the vital balance contemplated by the Carter Formula, which mandates GECOM to consist of three commissioners representing the government and three commissioners representing the Opposition with a Chairman produced from a collaborative process between the Leader of the Opposition and the President.”
Moreover he said that “I am duty bound to say to you and to the nation that today is one of the darkest days of our fledgling democracy.”
Jagdeo indicated that in addition to soliciting the assistance of international bodies such as the United Nations, the party “will be challenging the decision in court.”
“We will certainly challenge the President’s decision. This decision of the President also breaches an undertaking given to this nation that in the event that the third list is rejected, ’a high-level team would be assembled representing the President and the Leader of the Opposition which will begin to work immediately on exploring modalities to bring a resolution to this matter in the event that the list is reject ‘”Jagdeo quoted the President as saying.
The Opposition leader said he hopes civil society will see “this for what it is… an attempt to rig the next elections ” and will also raise their voice in relation to this matter.
The PPP leader said that the party had always harboured a grave suspicion that the President would ignore the 18 names submitted in order to make a unilateral appointment.
Speaking to the lack of independence of the person appointed by President Granger, the PPP leader observed that Justice Patterson is currently employed by Government as an advisor to the Attorney General.
Justice Patterson was also handpicked by the President to serve as the Chairman of the Commission of Inquiry into the Camp Street prison-break and fire.
He told media operatives the President’s appointee also fails to satisfy his own publicly declared criteria in respect of the Chairman of GECOM.
The President had indicated that among the requirements which such a person should possess is wide electoral knowledge. Justice Patterson has no known knowledge in electoral matters. Jagdeo recalled too that the President had expressed a preference for youth but that the appointee, Justice Patterson is in fact pushing 85 years of age.
“The President also said that he did not want a religious Leader. Justice Patterson is a priest…By his position the President has clearly and formally signalled his government’s intention to derail and undermine the democratic process and to jeopardise free and fair elections in Guyana. The President has demonstrated bad-faith; he has acted unlawfully; and he has now thrown this nation into chaos. He will be held responsible for all repercussions, which will now follow.”
According to the Opposition Leader, “Government will not have our cooperation on any issue in this country until they start complying with the Constitution.”
(Additional reporting by Gary Eleazar)