GUYANA: GECOM Chair must uphold constitution

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(Guyana Chronicle) – In her quest to bring the electoral impasse to an end, the Chairman of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM), Justice (Ret’d) Claudette Singh must uphold the Constitution of Guyana – the supreme law of the Law, the A Partnership for National Unity + Alliance For Change  (APNU+AFC) has said.

In referencing to the landmark judgement of the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) in the Bharrat Jagdeo and Irfaan Ali v Eslyn David case, the APNU+AFC reminded that as the supreme law, all arms of state, whether legislative, judicial, or executive, are subject to the normative, enabling, and limiting jurisdictions, powers, and responsibilities that are constitutionally legitimate.

President of the CCJ, Justice Adrian Saunders

In its ruling, the CCJ, while acknowledging the aim of the Recount Order – Order No. 60 – noted that order ought not contradict the Constitution of the Co-operative Republic of Guyana. The CCJ stated: “The Court also notes that an Order issued by GECOM in any particular context can never determine how the Constitution is to be interpreted. It is a matter of elementary constitutional law that if ordinary legislation is in tension with the Constitution, then the courts must give precedence to the words of the Constitution and not the other way around.

With respect, the notion that Order 60 could either impact interpretation of the Constitution or create a new election regime at variance with the plain words of the Constitution is constitutionally unacceptable.”

The APNU+AFC believes that the Order created a new electoral regime, and as such is not in keeping with the Constitution. On that basis, it argued that the votes tabulated during the National Recount cannot be used to declare the results of the General and Regional Elections.

The ruling coalition submitted that to request of the Chief Elections Officer to submit an Elections Report contrary to the Constitution could result in unconstitutional act. Further, the coalition alluded to the fact that the CCJ, in its judgement, reinforced that the Representation of the People Act is the applicable framework for elections in Guyana.

Paragraph 37 of the CCJ’s ruling stated: “The Presidential candidate on the list for which more votes have been cast than any other list is deemed to be elected as President, and the Chairman of GECOM must so declare. Both the allocation of seats in the National Assembly and the identification of the successful Presidential candidate are determined on the sole basis of votes counted and information furnished by returning officers under the Representation of the People Act.”

The recount process did not provide information furnished by Returning Officers. In fact, it was regular staff of GECOM that facilitated the National Recount, involved “the bending” of the electoral laws, including the Representation of the People Act that dictates what constitutes a “valid vote.”

The party in support of its position, alluded to Article 177 (2) (b) of the Constitution which explains how elections results must be declared: “where there are two or more Presidential candidates, if more votes are cast in favour of the list in which a person is designated as Presidential candidate than in favour of any other list, that Presidential candidate shall be deemed to be elected as President and shall be so declared by the Chairman of the Elections Commission acting only in accordance with the advice of the Chief Election Officer, after such advice has been tendered to the Elections Commission at a duly summoned meeting.”

Against this background, the coalition is resolute in its position that the GECOM Chair must act in full accordance with the Constitution and the judgement of the CCJ. On July 9, 2020, Justice Singh requested that the Chief Elections Officer, Keith Lowenfield submits an Elections Commission based on the National Recount, however, on the 11th July, the CEO reverted to the first set of declarations made by the Returning Officers, on the basis that the CCJ said the declaration must be made based on information from the Returning Officers and in accordance with the Act and Constitution.

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