Stalemate in Guyana
Chief justice blocks declaration of March 2 elections resultsMonday, March 09, 2020
BY NEIL MARKS
GEORGETOWN, Guyana – Guyana's chief justice ruled yesterday that a case has been made out that head of Guyana's largest electoral district breached electoral laws, and upheld an injunction blocking a declaration of a winner in the March 2 polls.
Chief Justice Roxane George will begin hearing the case tomorrow and will thereafter have to decide whether to direct the returning officer for Region Four to go back to the verification process he started in the presence of international and local observers.
Guyana has 10 electoral districts, which corresponds to the country's administrative regions, and the returning officer is responsible for running the election in his/her district.
District Four had 897 polling stations, but the returning officer only allowed the verification process for 421 statements of poll and aborted the process after. He then certified the votes counted and handed it to the country's chief elections officer, who went ahead and prepared a final report of all 10 electoral districts for the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) to declare a winner.
The Opposition PPP/C, which had won six of the nine regions, was 52,000 votes ahead. But with the unverified report of Region Four, the APNU+AFC Coalition was put in the lead and on course to win the elections. But the Opposition PPP/C said the numbers produced by the returning officer did not match all votes counted and accused the electoral body of stealing the elections for the the APNU+AFC.
Reeaz Hollander, a citizen, filed and was granted an injunction by the High Court to block the declaration of the overall results of the elections until the matter is heard and determined.
Senior counsel Neil Boston, attorney for Returning Officer Clairmont Mingo, the chief elections officer, and GECOM had argued Saturday that the questions raised in the case were matters that need to be dealt with by an elections petition and that such a petition can only be made when the elections results are declared.
But the chief justice yesterday ruled that the court could invoke its supervisory responsibility to ensure that the correct procedure is followed.
“A court cannot shirk its duty…and shelter behind the contention that an elections petition should be filed when the case clearly does not so warrant,” the chief justice stated.
Senior counsel Douglas Mendes, representing Hollander, had argued that the case has nothing to do with the elections results, but with the process leading up to the declaration of the elections results. The results of last Monday's vote are not yet known, and Mendes argued in court that the case is essentially one of procedure that seeks to preserve the purity and transparency of the process.
He argued further that results from an illegal process could not be used to swear in a president and new Government, based on that illegal process, and then a challenge is made.
The injunction against the declaration of the elections results was sought after Returning Officer Mingo last Thursday moved to declare the votes recorded for the parties in his region without it being verified by party agents and local and international observers.
In nine of the 10 electoral districts, returning officers verified their statements of poll in the presence of party agents as well as local and international observers. The only district that did not follow this procedure to the end was District Four as the process was only followed in verifying a fraction of statements of poll.
Anil Nandlall, one of the attorneys for the appeal in the case, had previously argued that the process of verification is referred to in the law as “counting of the votes polled” and is provided for by Section 84 (1) of the Representation of the People Act, Chapter 1:03.
Nandlall had pointed out that Mingo had already determined that international observers were among the representatives whom, in his opinion, have a good reason to be present.
It was revealed Saturday night that the chief elections officer had prepared his final report on the results of Monday's elections and called for a meeting of GECOM to approve it but that the report contains the unverified count of votes in Region Four.
Chief Justice George said yesterday that she received an undertaking from Attorney Boston that GECOM would not act on the report of Lowenfield until the case is determined.
Three of the six commissioners have said they will not attend any meeting as long as the court case is still active. The commission cannot meet if there is no quorum, which is defined in the constitution as four members and the chairman. So, for any meeting to go on at least one PPP/C Commissioner has to be present.
International governments, including the United States, Britain, and Canada, the European Union, along with observers from the Commonwealth, the Organization of American States, and the Caribbean Community have all said that if the verification of the Region Four statements of poll are not completed the elections results would not be credible. The US State Department on Saturday night said the Government would be illegitimate if the president is sworn in with unverified votes from Region Four.
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