Guyana Politics: CJ to rule on challenge to house-to-house registration August 14

– Attorney General insists laws do not cater for snap elections

Chief Justice Roxane George

In the meantime, Attorney General Basil Williams, who is a Respondent in the matter, has asked the court to allow the registration exercise which commenced on July 20, to continue, on the basis that it is “the most doable mechanism to update the voters’ list in preparation for free, fair and credible general and regional elections”.   

A.G. Basil Williams

Williams was at the time presenting submissions when Justice George continued hearing the matter yesterday at the High Court in Demerara.

Arguing that the house-to-house registration will take mere weeks to complete, Williams dispelled arguments by Ram’s lawyer Anil Nandlall, who is also asking the court to compel the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) to hold elections by September 18 – in keeping with the Constitution and ruling of the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ).

  Anil Nandlall

According to Nandlall, if one is to read the ruling of the CCJ, its consequential orders and the Constitution conjunctively, there is no other logical conclusion that elections are to be held by that date, which is within three months of when the regional court handed down its judgment on June 18. Nandlall nevertheless urged the court not to refrain from granting the orders his client is seeking, since according to him, the executive is “misbehaving” and the judiciary, which is the guardian of the Constitution, has to be stern.

Christopher Ram

However, Williams submitted that there is nothing in the ruling of the CCJ, which indicates that elections must be held by September 18. In fact, the Attorney General argued that the legal framework for elections does not cater for snap elections. This is notwithstanding the provisions of Articles 106 (6) and 106 (7) of the Constitution. They respectively state: “The Cabinet including the President shall resign if the Government is defeated by the vote of a majority of all the elected members of the National Assembly on a vote of confidence.”And “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.”

Williams submitted that there is no procedure stipulated as to what is to happen upon the successful passage of a No-Confidence Motion. He underscored, “There is no infrastructure to support it.” He suggested that the political players return to Parliament and adapt a course of action from other countries in which laws provide for such a motion.

“We have to go back to the drawing board to make provisions for No-Confidence Motion,” Williams argued.
Nandlall, on the other hand, rejected the Attorney General’s contention and maintained that the Constitution makes certain provisions for the successful passage of a No-Confidence Motion. Further reacting to Williams’s submission, Nandlall emphasised that the executive is “holding the Constitution and ruling of the CCJ at ransom”.
In essence, Nandlall said that by Williams holding such a position, he is denying the President the power to call elections.

Moreover, Williams admitted that government was in an interim/caretaker mode – a pronouncement which was made by the CCJ. Since the No-Confidence Motion was deemed properly passed on December 21, 2018, the Attorney General maintained that the March 21 deadline for holding elections had already elapsed. He said that the provisions of Article 106 (7) do not extend that time by another three months. He therefore insisted that it is now for political actors to return to the National Assembly and extend the elections timeframe.
According to Williams, the three-month timeframe for holding elections stipulated in Article 106 (7) is directory and not mandatory.

The Attorney General held that GECOM is bound to do everything in keeping with the law to hold free, fair, and credible elections, and one such obligation is the house-to-house registration process, which he maintains is lawful.

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