COBWEBS OF CONFUSION
PRESIDENT David Granger has announced definitively that March 2, 2020 will be Election Day. His Excellency has also clarified that he will formally proclaim March 2, 2020 as the date for the conduct of Regional and General Elections.
Last week when I was in Barima-Waini, I wrote about developments “way up North”. I wanted to focus this week on “way down South”, as I am in the Rupununi, but due to heavy rains I am stuck in Lethem.
So, I will deal with the identification and designation of Monday, March 2, 2020 as the earliest possible date for the holding of new elections which came shortly after the President was informed that preparations for the polls would be completed “by the end of February”. (Letter from Madam, Justice Claudette Singh, GECOM’s Chairman).
These preparations are being done by the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM), which is charged under the hybrid Westminster-Republican Guyana Constitution with responsibility for conducting and supervising elections in this sole English-speaking democracy in South America.
MONDAY AS ELECTION DAY
Traditionally, elections in Guyana are held on a Monday, providing that it is not a public holiday. As 2020 is a Leap Year, February has 29 days, the last of which falls on a Saturday. The next proximate Monday falls two days later, on March 2.
The choice, therefore, of Monday, March 2, 2020 is indeed the earliest possible date after the end of February for holding national and regional elections in Guyana. Nothing could be more simple and straightforward than this. Yet, the Opposition tried to misrepresent the authenticity of this date, and to sow confusion in the country.
Earlier, the opposition had demanded elections be held earlier, by March 21; then before April 30; and by September 18. Its last juggle with dates was that elections should be held on a date “inside” February.
But the earlier Monday falls on February 24, which is a national holiday. On February 23, Guyana will observe its Golden Jubilee (50th) anniversary of becoming a Republic, which will coincide with the biggest-ever celebration of our national and unique Mashramani Festivities.
WEB OF CONFUSION
It appears that while the opposition has since dumped its “inside February” demand, it is still spinning cobwebs of confusion, that is, that (a) the date should be proclaimed; (b) the claims and objections period to clean the preliminary voters list should be 35 days, instead of 49 days, and (c) it would not return to the National Assembly to support extension of the period for holding elections.
The Opposition Leader seemed to have conveniently forgotten what President Donald Ramotar, his own surrogate, had done. Faced with a no-confidence motion against his corrupt minority government, Ramotar prorogued Parliament on November 10, 2014, when the Assembly had reconvened to debate my motion.
On the 20th January, 2015, he announced that he had set May 11, 2015 as the date for fresh elections. As I recall, Ramotar did not then issue any Proclamation of the election date, or at the time when he later announced the dissolution of Parliament.
However, he gave as reasons for the extended May 11 date the need for prior assurance by GECOM that (a) it was ready to hold those elections; (b) it could efficiently deliver free, fair and transparent elections; and (c) it would complete registration of new voters, especially residents in the hinterland.
Ramotar gave another reason for not opting for an earlier date, which was not to cause any disruption with the Christmas holiday season. (Guyana Chronicle, January 20, 2015).
Mr. Ramotar waited a further month, until 24th February, 2015, to issue a Proclamation for the dissolution of Parliament. He explained that he delayed [the] dissolution of the 10th Parliament of Guyana and the 10 Regional Democratic Councils to allow the claims and objections period to be completed.
There are similarities between the 2015 and 2019 situations. It is clear that both President Ramotar and President Granger wanted full assurances from GECOM that it could deliver credible elections before fixing a date for elections; that voter registration should be completed so as not to disenfranchise any eligible person; and that Elections Day should not clash with any national holiday.
Where the situations differ is that these 2020 elections are coming after a motion of no-confidence in the government has been passed, and deemed to be passed after protracted court hearings. The Constitution requires that elections be held thereafter within 90 days and, if not held for any reason, the National Assembly has to authorize for these elections to be held within a “longer period”. (Article 106 (7) of the Guyana Constitution).
It is for this and possibly other cogent reasons that Parliament has to be kept alive, as indeed it is.
Contrary to all good reasons, the parliamentary opposition has declared an inflexible and dogmatic stance of not returning to the National Assembly to support a motion for the extension [of] the time for elections to a longer period beyond 90 days.
Dr. Henry Jeffrey, a former PPP Minister, posited that opposition support was necessary if the two-thirds majority required for an extension of the elections was to be achieved. He concluded that “but for its own reasons, the PPP/C decided that it would not support such a change until a date for elections was announced”. (Stabroek News, 25th September, 2019).
The date has since been announced, but the opposition, like an agile political spider, spun another web of confusion by arguing that its return to Parliament would legitimize the Government. The opposition has no moral or constitutional legs on which to support this fragile contention.
Dr. Jeffrey refuted this yarn, by saying that “the passing of 18 September without an extension of parliament does not mean that the present government is illegal”.
The Constitution protects the legitimacy of the government and assigns to it the responsibility of holding fresh elections after the passage of a no-confidence vote, though the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) placed it on “a different footing” and delimits its role as that of a caretaker or interim administration.
The motion that the Constitution requires is not to extend the life of government, but to authorize a longer period, beyond 90 days, within which elections should be held.
In his recent Address to the Nation, President Granger reaffirmed that
since the passage of the no-confidence motion in the National Assembly, his Government has respected the decisions of the courts, and upheld the Constitution.
President Granger further explained that the legal processes “were neither frivolous nor aimed at delaying the consequences of the no-confidence motion”.
It is a reasonable argument that the Government of Guyana must return to the National Assembly to request an extension of the longer period for the holding of the elections. However, given the adamant position of the opposition, the President is required by proclamation to both dissolve Parliament and the ten Regional Democratic Councils, and appoint the date for elections which must be “within three months after every dissolution of Parliament”.
The APNU+AFC Government is on the right constitutional track. It deserves the support of all Guyanese for credible elections!