By not resigning President David Granger and Cabinet are violating the Constitution, former Speaker of the National Assembly Ralph Ramkarran says, arguing that the no-confidence vote provisions are clear.
When the National Assembly approved Article 106(6) of the Constitution over 15 years ago, it is clear that it intended that the word “majority” should mean 33 of the 65 members of the House and did not contemplate that because there cannot be half a member, the majority should be 34, according to Ramkarran who was also the Chairman of the Constitution Reform Commission (CRC) in 1999-2000 which initiated the changes.
Article 106(6) provides that the “Cabinet including the President shall resign if the Government is defeated by the vote of the majority of all elected members of the National Assembly on a vote of confidence.”
The provision is under scrutiny following the December 21 vote of no-confidence against the David Granger-led government which was passed 33-32 after APNU+AFC parliamentarian Charrandas Persaud defected from the government benches to vote in favour of the PPP/C-sponsored motion. While it had initially accepted the results, the government has since said that it is examining its legal options. Arguments have been made including by attorney Nigel Hughes that for a no-confidence motion to be carried, it needs to be supported by at least 34 votes of the 65-seat National Assembly.
In his column in the Sunday Stabroek today, Ramkarran wrote that prior to 2000-2002 when the constitutional reforms were implemented, the resignation of a government on a confidence vote was a convention.
He recalled that the CRC noted the uncertainty as to whether the President would have to resign. For this reason, he wrote, it recommended as follows: “The following shall be included in Article 106: ‘The Cabinet shall be collectively responsible to Parliament for the control of the Government of Guyana. It shall be provided that the Cabinet, including the President, who is part and parcel of the Cabinet as provided for in Article 106, must resign if the Government is defeated by a majority of all the members of the National Assembly on a vote of confidence.’”
According to Ramkarran, who has now formed a political party to contest the next elections, the PPP members of the Commission abstained. “It’s a matter of the greatest irony that it is the PPP, which declined to formally support the recommendation in the Commission, that has now relied on and benefited from it,” he said.
Since 2011, the National Assembly has recognised the 33-32 vote as a valid majority, said Ramkarran. This accords with the literal interpretation of “majority,” defined by the Oxford dictionary as “the greater number,” he wrote while adding that “majority rule” means “that the greater number shall exercise greater power.”
He pointed out that the “Table for determining majority and two-thirds votes” by Michigan State University (https:// msu.edu/~spha/documents/determinevote.pdf) lists the majority of 65 as 33. He noted that 49 pairs of numbers (98 in total) out of the 1 to 100 that are listed, have the same number as a majority. Only the numbers 1 and 100 are not paired with any others. Thus, 33 as a majority for two numbers, 64 and 65, is the rule rather than the exception, Ramkarran wrote.
“On all rational considerations, it is clear that the National Assembly, when it voted in favour of Article 106(6), intended that the word “majority” should mean 33 of the 65 members of the National Assembly, and that the latter did not have in its contemplation that because there cannot be half a member, the majority should be 34,” he said.
According to Ramkarran, “fanciful theories of mathematical precision” are nowhere recognised as a basis for statutory interpretation. “What the National Assembly intended and/or contemplated by the use of the word “majority” in Article 106(6), based on the legal principles relating to statutory interpretation, are the determining factors,” he said.
“If the Speaker were to overthrow Parliamentary governance by an ex post facto ruling that a majority of 65 is 34, the revisiting of legislation rejected from 2011 to 2015 and passed between 2015 and the present on the 33-32 majority would rent our Constitution asunder and drown Guyana in chaos, confusion and crisis,” he argued.
Earlier, he had said that Speaker of the House Dr Barton Scotland has repeatedly ruled since 2015, and it has been accepted by the Government since 2011, that a majority is 33.
Ramkarran also said that Scotland cannot recall, reverse or vitiate his ruling that the motion was carried, without violating the Standing Orders, and making a mockery of Parliament. He also argued that by not resigning the President and Cabinet are violating the Constitution.
Article 106(7) of the Constitution provides that “Notwithstanding its defeat, the Government shall remain in office and shall hold an election within three months….and shall resign after the President takes the oath of office following the election.”
Ramkarran added: “I wonder if the Government, in its reckless drive to destroy Guyana’s democracy, considers what would happen if it succeeds. It can never pass any legislation with 33 votes. It cannot retrospectively legalise what occurred since 2015 with 33 votes. Is it really worth it? For one more year in office?” (See column on page 7.)