For the eighth time in a row, the statutory meeting of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) ended prematurely yesterday due to a walkout from the opposition-nominated commissioners, one of whom has suggested that all meetings be suspended until the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) has ruled on the legality of the December 21st No-Confidence Motion against government.
Opposition-nominated commissioner Bibi Shadick told Stabroek News that she will continue the action for as long as the commission attempts to discuss house-to-house registration.
“Since March 26th, when all we did was go through minutes of the three meetings prior, we have discussed nothing because they have been unable to present a plan for the holding of elections without house-to-house… as long as GECOM proposes to discuss house-to-house registration, I will continue to walkout. House-to-house registration is not constitutional… it is not the law, Continuous registration is law,” Shadick explained.
She noted that the GECOM Chairman, retired judge James Patterson, has maintained that each meeting after the aborted meeting of March 26 was a continuation of that meeting but the commission has been unable to move beyond agenda item seven, which was originally “Elections 2019,” then “Elections” and later “Registration.”
“These people are playing with us,” Shadick declared, before adding that government-nominated commissioner Vincent Alexander has argued that there is no mandate for the discussion of election 2019 since no date has been named and she refuses to discuss plans for election unless the discussion excludes house-to-house registration.
Noting that these differing views make for a stalemate, Shadick yesterday suggested that the meetings be postponed until the CCJ rules on the validity of the motion, which could potentially trigger early polls.
Government-nominated commissioner Desmond Trotman confirmed that the suggestion of postponing meetings of the commission was presented, before vehemently declaring “I will not support it.” “It is ironic that early this year the opposition commissioners were accusing the other commissioners of stalling the work of the commission to wait for a court decision, which was not true, and yet now they are openly asking us to halt work to wait for the CCJ,” Trotman noted, before adding that there appears to be a concerted plan by the opposition commissioners to come to meetings and walk out on spurious matters.
He further stressed that it is unreasonable to expect the pace of GECOM’s work to be dictated by the pace of the CCJ’s work.
“I cannot support the stymieing of the commission’s work when so much has to be done to put the commission in a state of preparedness for the holding of elections, whether it is 2019 or 2020. Critical position[s] which have been vacant for a while must be filled, procurement must be done,” he explain-ed, before adding that some decisions have been made and the Secretariat, led by the Chief Election Officer, has been mandated to implement same.
One such decision is house-to-house registration, for which enumerators are currently being trained. According to GECOM, the process is likely to begin in early June.
Meanwhile, an overseas-based Guyanese has initiated legal action to prevent the planned national house-to-house registration exercise.
In a fixed date application, pensioner Bibi Zeenatoun, through her lawyer Anil Nandlall, has asked that the High Court declare the proposed exercise “unconstitutional” and grant orders restraining GECOM and its staff from conducting the exercise, not only in June but at “any date thereafter,” as she contends it would disenfranchise her.
Zeenatoun, who “voted in elections in Guyana as recent as the 2018 Local Government Elections,” fears that she will be excluded from the proposed exercise and, thereby, in effect, will be de-registered and “unlawfully denied her statutory and constitutional right to be registered and to vote,” as she will be out of the country for five months beginning in May.
She has asked the court to validate this fear by granting a declaration that house-to-house registration would exclude her and other qualified registrants currently on the National Register of Registrants and on the Official List of Electors, in contravention of their constitutional right to vote.