Based on her understanding of the judgment and consequential orders by the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), Chief Justice Roxane George yesterday said that the date for general and regional elections, March 21, has long gone. In fact, Justice George noted that “we” are supposedly in a period of an extension for the timeframe for holding elections, but that extension has not been agreed on.
“We are still waiting on the National Assembly to meet,” Justice George said as she commenced hearing arguments in application filed by Attorney-at-Law Christopher Ram.
Ram is asking the court to order the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) to stop its house-to-house registration process which commenced on July 20.
Ram is also seeking a Conservatory Order compelling GECOM to immediately take all steps and actions necessary and requisite to hold General and Regional Elections on or “before the 18th day of September 2019, in compliance with Articles 106(6) and 106(7) of the Constitution of Guyana and the decisions of the CCJ.”
During his submissions, Ram’s lawyer, Anil Nandlall, insisted that the June 18 judgments of the CCJ means that elections must be held within three months of those rulings—by September 18.
But Nandlall was asked by Justice George to justify this position. In his explanation, Nandlall said that while the CCJ refrained from setting a date for elections, the court implied that elections must be held three months after its ruling in keeping with the provisions of Article 106 (7) of the Constitution.
Article 106 (7) says, Notwithstanding its defeat, the Government shall remain in office and shall hold an election within three months, or such longer period as the National Assembly shall by resolution supported by not less than two-thirds of the votes of all the elected members of the National Assembly, and shall resign after the President takes the oath of office following the election.
According to Nandlall, the CCJ felt that there was no need to issue coercive orders in relation to a date for election, since the Constitution is very clear on the timeframe given the successful passage of a no-confidence motion. He added that it is now for the political players and GECOM to act in accordance with the supreme law.
But since the CCJ refused to issue coercive orders, Justice George queried of Nandlall why he was now asking the High Court to issue an order compelling GECOM to conduct elections by September 18.
In response, he reasoned that after the CCJ’s ruling GECOM commenced the registration process, despite informing the court that the process could conclude until Christmas Day, December 25.
In any event, Nandlall submitted that the conclusion of house-to-house registration does not mean that elections could be held the very next day. For one, the lawyer pointed out that there still has to be the conducting of claims and objections, among other things.
He was then asked by the Chief Justice to provide the evidence that there will be no extension to the timeframe for elections. Nandlall acknowledged that while such evidence was not before the court, Leader of the Opposition Bharrat Jagdeo has already declared that there will be none.
In this regard, he insisted that GECOM’s decision to embark on the house-to-house registration will collude with elections.
He argued that in order to complete this house-to-house registration within an impossible timeframe will result in thousands of Guyanese being unlawfully deregistered and will omit to register thousands of qualified registrants, thereby resulting in the loss of their right to vote at the next elections. This, he said, would include persons who are temporarily overseas.
In fact, Nandlall submitted that the elections commission deliberately embarked upon the house-to-house registration process to further violate and aggravate the Constitution.
What makes a huge part of the registration process unconstitutional, according to Nandlall, is that GECOM is looking to scrap the exiting voters’ list which he dubbed a ‘wholesale collusive violation.”
Nandlall reminded that GECOM’s Legal Adviser (Excellence Dazzell) on several occasions advised that the house-to-house registration exercise is unconstitutional and unlawful, but the advice has been ignored.
He submitted that Chief Elections Officer (CEO) Keith Lowenfield had told reporters that that very list could be revised and used for polls. Lowenfield’s lawyer, Roysdale Forde, however, was in disagreement. As a matter of fact, Forde submitted that he is not aware of any other process other than house-to-house registration for the updating of the voters’ list.
But Nandlall explained that apart from house-to-house registration, other mechanisms can be taken to update the voters’ list. For example, he said that persons can go to their regional elections office, among other things.
Forde said that there was nothing in the CCJ’s ruling which suggests that elections must be held by September 18. Against this backdrop, Forde put forward that the political actors must now act in good faith in keeping with the rulings of the regional court.
He also contended that no evidence was produced by Ram to support that the house-to-house registration process is unreasonable or unlawful. According to Forde, the situation at hand has nothing to do with the fact that a no-confidence motion was successfully passed, but what GECOM considers best for conducting free, fair and credible elections.
While it is an offence for a person to refuse to register during the current house-to-house registration exercise, Nandlall reasoned that logically there must be a sanction for deregistering persons. Senior Counsel Stanley Marcus, on behalf of GECOM, agreed with submissions made by Attorney General Basil Williams that it is now for Parliament to extend the deadline for elections.
Senior Counsel Marcus told the court that the Constitution makes provisions for the eventuality of elections not happening by March 21. He noted that it is now left up to the National Assembly to extend such time.
The Senior Counsel in concluding said that it is for the President and Leader of the Opposition to get together and act with integrity.
Arguments in this case will continue on Monday at 9:00hrs. The Bar Association and Attorney General are among the parties expected to make submissions then.