Fresh proceedings to start in AFC elections petition case

Fresh court proceedings are expected to begin in the Alliance for Change (AFC) elections petition case which has been tangled up in the backlog of High Court cases; a setback the party has called “most frustrating”.

The legal blow is the consequence of a number of issues, the party said yesterday, specifically pointing to the deficiency of High Court judges. AFC Chairman, Khemraj Ramjattan accused the President of deliberately prolonging the appointment of new judges. “…is being deliberately prolonged by the President because after several recommendations for judgeships made some months ago by the Judicial Service Commission (JSC), the President has not seen it fit to appoint or swear in those recommended,” Ramjattan said.

President Bharrat Jagdeo addressed the issue yesterday during a press conference at State House, declaring that he will pursue the JSC’s recommendations for judges and make the appointments after viewing the list.

Acting Chief Justice Ian Chang or a High Court judge assigned by him will hear the AFC elections petition case for a second time, but a new date is still to be fixed.

Speaking to the media on the issue yesterday, AFC Chairman, Khemraj Ramjattan said the logjam in the High Court has been cited as the reason for the stalled proceedings in the case, which had been filed by Walter Melville on behalf of the party concerning the Region Ten parliamentary seat shortly after the 2006 general elections.

But while the deficiency of High Court judges has posed some difficulties for the petition, Ramjattan said certain delay tactics were employed by the administration and the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) to prolong the case.

He explained that a series of preliminary points had been raised during the initial hearings of the case that had commenced before then Chief Justice, Carl Singh, which according to him were devised at delaying the substantive hearing.

He also pointed out that a stumbling block occurred when a High Court ruling barred Chief Justice Singh from hearing the case. The ruling was handed down by Justice William Ramlall, who had ruled that the Chief Justice could not constitutionally hold both the offices of Acting Chancellor and Chief Justice.

Prior to the press briefing yesterday, Leader of the AFC, Raphael Trotman had told Stabroek News that there had been no determination of the Region Ten seat following the 2006 elections though the party possessed certified statements of poll, which he said, clearly showed that the AFC had won the seat. He said the party had won more votes than the People’s Progressive Party in Region ten. He added that the seat should have therefore been assigned to the AFC.

Trotman noted that GECOM made an announcement that the PPP had won the seat following the elections and that Prime Minister Samuel Hinds was named as the elected PPP representative for the seat.

But he noted that the mistake was discovered shortly after, and that Chairman of GECOM, Dr Steve Surijbally then acknowledged that there was a miscalculation, and had accepted that his office erred. It was stated then that the “stress” that some GECOM employees were working under resulted in the error.

According to Trotman, Surijbally had also stated that at no time did GECOM made any attempts to subvert the democratic process, but the AFC filed its election petition soon after when it was made known that GECOM could not legally change any announcements that it had publicized, and that it can only be changed in a court of law.

When the petition was filed, he said, that the AFC had expected the case would have been resolved in a matter of weeks, but noted that it has been close to two years since the petition first came up in the High Court.

The PPP and GECOM have raised arguments stating that the petition should be thrown out but according to Trotman, “this is expected from the PPP not GECOM as the latter it an independent body”.

The party reiterated calls yesterday for GECOM to function independently, adding that the body needs to be depoliticised.

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