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GECOM to decide on way forward today

Juan Carlos Carvallo
GECOM to decide on way forward today

Chairman of GECOM Justice (Ret’d) Claudette Singh By Svetlana Marshall

WILL the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) order a National Recount? That decision would be determined today, when the Commission, chaired by Justice (Ret’d) Claudette Singh, meets to chart the way forward with the anticipation of bringing an end to the electoral process, which has been protracted for more than a month.

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Commissioner Desmond Trotman Commissioner Bibi Shadick Commissioner Robeson Benn Commissioner Sase Gunraj Commissioner Charles Corbin Commissioner Vincent Alexander When the Commission met on Thursday at its High and Cowan Streets Office, the Chair iterated her commitment made to the High Court to have a National Recount facilitated but this was met with recommendations, from the Government nominated-Commissioners, that legal guidance be sought ahead of any decision. Commissioner Charles Corbin is expected to submit a report on legal guidance received on the topic of a national recount at this stage of the elections.

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Thursday’s meeting was the first since the Full Court ruled on March 31 that a Judicial Review of the decisions of the Elections Commission is not possible at this stage of the electoral process, and any challenge must be brought by way of an Elections Petition following the declaration of the results. A private citizen, Ulita Moore, had filed legal proceedings to block GECOM’s decision to facilitate a national recount, on the grounds that the Chief Elections Officer, Keith Lowenfield has already compiled his report, and a President of Guyana should be declared.

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During the meeting, Justice (Ret’d) Singh reminded the Commissioners of the legal ramifications that currently face the Commission. “…Chairperson of the Guyana Elections Commission, Justice Claudette Singh provided a brief background on the Court proceedings and explained that the contempt matter brought against her has not concluded but has been shelved due to her giving an undertaking to conduct a full national recount of all votes cast in the March 2, 2020 General and Regional Elections at the level of the Commission,” GECOM’s Public Relations Officer, Yolanda Ward explained in a statement.

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Against that background, the Chair asked the Commission to discuss the possibility of the recount but within the framework of the Constitution and the Electoral Laws of the country. In the early stages of the meeting, Opposition nominated-Commissioner Robeson Benn moved a motion calling for a recount but subsequently withdrew it based on the contention that GECOM had already taken a decision to so do

“[The] Opposition nominated Commissioners expressed the view that the Commission did approve to have a recount supervised by CARICOM and that there is nothing that precludes the Commission from moving ahead in this regard now that the Court has paved the way for GECOM to finalize its deliberation to operationalise the recount,” Ward explained

While President David Granger and the Leader of the Opposition Bharrat Jagdeo have signed an Aide Memoire for a high-level Caribbean Community (CARICOM) team to supervise a recount of ballots in the 10 Electoral Districts, the country’s Chief Parliamentary Counsel, Charles Fung-a-Fatt, had advised the such an arrangement would be in contravention of the Constitution of Guyana and the Representation of the People Act. The Full Court, however, in dismissing the case brought by Moore, said there are provisions within the Constitution and Sections 22 of the Elections Law (Amendment) Act of 2000 for the Elections Commission to one, facilitate credible elections and two, address any difficult that may arise. Several difficulties have arisen since the March 2 Elections resulting in a significant delay in the delivery of the results

“It is within this context, one would expect GECOM to step in and take charge of the situation. Article 162 (1) (b)…gives wide powers to GECOM to ensure an impartial and fair elections process. Section 22 of Act No. 15 of 2000 merely supplements or provides one of many mechanisms for ensuring that there is compliance with Article 162 in this regard,” Justice Roxane George-Wiltshire reasoned as she handed down the ruling in the Full Court. Section 22 states: “If any difficulty arises in connection with the application of this Act, the Representation of the People Act or the National Registration Act or any relevant subsidiary legislation, the Commission shall, by order, make any provision, including the amendment of the said legislation, that appears to the Commission to be necessary or expedient for removing the difficulty; and any such order may modify any of the said legislation in respect of any particular matter or occasion so far as may appear to the Commission to be necessary or expedient for removing the difficulty.”

The decision of the Full Court is now being challenged at the Court of Appeal. In addition to recommending that the Elections Commission seek legal guidance as it decides on its next step, Government nominated Commissioner Vincent Alexander tabled a motion for the Commission to await the completion of the legal proceedings and consider the report of the Chief Elections Officer on the results of the Elections. But the Chair of GECOM again reminded the Commissioners of the legal challenges filed against the Commission

“Justice Singh explained that she would be unable to allow the CEO to present his report at this point in time since a contempt motion brought by the People’s Progressive Party restrains her from so doing. In relation to this matter, she had given an undertaking to the Court to facilitate a recount at the level of the Commission,” Ward reported. But while Ward reported that the motion was not allowed, Commissioners Sase Gunraj and Vincent Alexander told reporters, upon the conclusion of the meeting, that the motion was put to a vote, and it was voted down – 4-3

The question of whether we should not wait on the present legal proceedings before we proceed was brought by way of motion, and that motion was disposed of negatively by a 4-3 vote,” Commissioner Alexander told reporters outside of GECOM’s office, moments after the meeting concluded

Asked what the reason behind the motion was, Alexander, in response, said “if one looks at the procedural elements of the things, there really is no impediment to that report being table.” Further to that, he referenced to commitment by the Chair of GECOM to await the completion of the legal proceedings before taking any action. Nonetheless, Alexander said he would vote in favour of a national recount in accordance with the CARICOM initiative

Commissioner Gunraj also expressed support for a national recount. “As we speak, I believe that everyone recognizes that a recount has to or ought to be conducted. There is discussion about the legality or whether we can do that. It is my position is that we can,” he told reporters outside of GECOM’s head office. The meeting of the Commission will reconvene today at 10:00hrs and a decision on the way forward is expected