Chief Justice Roxane George this afternoon ruled that 33 is the majority for the purposes of carrying a vote of no-confidence in Parliament.
The judge’s ruling was a major setback to the APNU+AFC’s hope of reversing the 33 to 32 vote which saw its government collapse on December 21, 2018.
After having earlier upheld the disputed vote of Charrandass Persaud, the judge said that 33 was the majority. Through its lawyers the government had argued that the majority should be an absolute one and in this case it should be 34, an argument that had been pilloried in many circles.
The judge today said that the court considered what is a majority of all elected members and in Guyana’s case the majority would be at least 33.
“At least 33 votes must always be obtained regardless of the voters present”, she said.
Attorney General Basil Williams then asked the court for a stay and a conservatory order to preserve the status quo. The judge refused this and advised him to take the matter to the Court of Appeal.
A 90-day clock has been ticking since the December 21 vote for the holding of general elections. To date the government has not recognized this neither has the Guyana Elections Commission shown any sign of observing it.
Today’s ruling by the judge will further weaken the government’s challenge to the validity of the motion of no confidence.
Attorney General Williams had approached the High Court to settle the legality of the vote on the no-confidence motion while saying that it needed the support of an “absolute majority” of 34 members to be valid.
Williams had applied to the court for orders to stay the enforcement of the motion and enable President David Granger and all his ministers to remain in office, while contending that the ruling by House Speaker Dr Barton Scotland that it was carried by a vote of 33 to 32 was unlawful.
In addition to an order to stay the enforcement of the motion, Williams had asked the court for a conservatory order to preserve the status quo ante that the President and all Ministers of the Government remain in office until the hearing and determination of questions surrounding the legality of the December 21st vote.
Scotland declared that the motion was carried after then government Member of Parliament (MP) Charrandass Persaud voted with the opposition. Among the seven questions Williams had asked the court to determine is whether the motion upon a division vote of 33 to 32 MPs was validly passed as it is his contention that 34 votes were needed.
The action came after the Speaker had earlier this month refused government’s request to reverse his recognition of the motion, while declaring that the issues which have surfaced needed full and final determination by the courts.
Guyana’s constitution states that where the government is defeated on a vote of no confidence, general elections are to be held within 90 days thereafter.
Article 106 (6) of the Constitution provides that “the Cabinet including the President shall resign if the Government is defeated by the vote of a majority of all the elected members of the National Assembly on a vote of no confidence.”
Article 106 (7) of the Constitution further provides that “notwithstanding its defeat, the Government shall remain in office and shall hold elections in three months, or such longer period as the National Assembly by resolution supported by not less than two-thirds of the votes of all the elected members of the National Assembly determine, and shall resign after the President takes the oath of office following the election.”
While initially accepting that the motion was carried, government has subsequently argued that a “majority” as meant by this provision is not 33 members of the 65-member House but 34.
In his urgent notice of application for the orders, Williams argued that the National Assembly comprises 65 members and that, mathematically, half of all the elected members equals 32.5. Accordingly, he says that the figure should then be rounded to the next whole number, being 33, which would now represent half of the elected members and that the majority thereby being a number greater than half means that ‘1’ ought to have been added to the whole number ‘33’ to calculate an absolute majority of 34.
Williams was of the view that since “the motion of no confidence was not validly passed by 34 or more of all the elected members of the National Assembly,” it is resultantly void and of no legal effect to defeat the government in accordance with Article 106 (6).
“The ruling of the Speaker that the motion was purportedly carried by a majority vote of 33:32 raises concerns of serious national interest and grave and significant constitutional issues that are central to Guyana’s democracy, stability and constitutional ethos and as a consequence, requires the Court’s urgent intervention,” Williams argued.