Gecom to await court’s decision on tied local gov’t councils

- Lowenfield

The Guyana Elections Commission (Gecom) will not act in relation to those local government areas which saw ties at last month’s polls until the court makes a decision on the case before it, according to Chief Election Officer (CEO) Keith Lowenfield.

“…Gecom’s authority does not supersede that of the court,” he told Stabroek News yesterday.

Asked why Gecom had not acted before the matter was taken to court or even before a decision had been made by Communities Minister Ronald Bulkan to unilaterally appoint leaders, Lowenfield maintained that neither the acting town clerk of Mabaruma nor the overseer of any of the affected Neighbourhood Democratic Councils (NDCs) informed the relevant Returning Officers that attempts to elect a mayor or chairperson had resulted in deadlocks.

Keith Lowenfield
Keith Lowenfield

“No one has to this day officially informed Gecom that there was an equality of votes at those meetings. Gecom cannot act without official information,” he said.

This year, following the March 18 local government elections, there were ties at the council level in one town, Mabaruma, and five NDCs: Woodlands/Bel Air, Malgre Tout/Meer Zorgen, Gibraltar/Fyrish, Industry/Plaisance and Woodlands/Farm. After two rounds of voting, the councillors were unable to elect a mayor in the case of Mabaruma and chairpersons in the case of the NDCs.

Bulkan then stepped in and appointed the leaders of these councils, although the laws suggest that by-elections should have been held to select these leaders.

The PPP/C moved to the courts to challenge the appointments and Justice Diana Insanally has granted an interim order quashing Bulkan’s decisions.

In a letter to Stabroek News published on Thursday, Bulkan said the appointments of council leaders was done to ensure that the work of those councils could begin.

A number of persons have pointed out that the particular piece of legislation that provides for by-elections has not changed since the 1994 local government elections, which saw by-elections being held to elect the chairperson and vice-chairperson of three Neighbourhood Democratic Councils (NDCs) following a deadlock at the council level.

Following the August 8, 1994 local government elections, there were ties in three NDCs, Soesdyke/Huist Coverden, Gibraltar/Fyrish and Mabaruma/ Kumaka/Hosororo. In all three of these areas, equal numbers of seats on the 18-member councils were secured by the PPP/C and community groups which contested the polls. As a result, fresh elections were held for the chairperson and deputy-chairpersons of the three NDCs.

Former chairman of the elections commission Edward Hopkinson has said that there should be by-elections. Hopkinson’s position is shared by several others, including Senior Counsel Ralph Ramkarran, who has said it is clear that the legislation provides for by-elections by voters. Leader of the Opposition Bharrat Jagdeo has also called on Gecom to take action in this regard.

Attorney-General Basil Williams has said he is “unaware” of the by-elections in 1994 and both he and Bulkan have argued that it is clear from a reading of the entire local government legislation that the framers never intended for the electorate to directly elect a mayor. Even if this could be done, Williams had said, it would take “four to five months.” In 1994, the run-offs were done in a matter of weeks, following the holding of the first meeting of the councils.

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