GECOM and general elections

Friday’s press conference called by the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) was further evidence that this high constitutional body has allowed itself to be subverted by the government with the express intention of delaying general elections and further thrusting the country towards a constitutional crisis.

First, the inanity of who must instruct the GECOM Secretariat to begin the process of preparing for elections is mind-boggling. Of course, it is GECOM and its seven commissioners who must provide the signal and that instruction should have already been given and must be reiterated immediately.

Second, the 148 days’ timeline announced by the Chief Election Officer, Keith Lowenfield is suspect and must be tested further. It is highly unlikely that training of staff will require 105 days when GECOM ran off Local Government Elections on November 12, 2018 – three months ago – with a full complement discharging essentially the same functions they will be required to execute on the day of general elections. This 148-day timeline must be dissected carefully and Mr Lowenfield made to fully justify every aspect of it to the Commission.

Third, GECOM and its commissioners were derelict in their responsibilities by not acting immediately upon the passage of the motion of no confidence in Parliament on the night of December 21st 2018 to prepare for general elections.  It should have been crystal clear to GECOM that Article 106 (6) and (7) required it to deliver elections in three months. It was not within GECOM’s bailiwick to be concerned with whether the government would challenge the motion of no-confidence as it has spuriously done. GECOM frittered away six weeks of the three-month period that had been set aside by the Constitution and therefore abdicated its responsibility to the nation.

President Granger’s motive in selecting Justice Patterson as Chairman of GECOM has now been exposed for all and sundry to absorb. The fig leaf covering the President’s rejection of 18 names supplied by the Leader of the Opposition has now been fully exposed. Between them, President Granger and Justice Patterson have managed to recreate the spectre of the three-man commission headed by Sir Harold Bollers, which commission presided over the last rigged general elections in 1985.

For all of their sanctimonious utterings about constitutional adherence, President Granger, PM Nagamootoo and other senior government officials are flagrantly in violation of the constitution by not recognising that it has set aside three months for the holding of new general elections. None of the government’s desperate manoeuvres to stay in office – appealing to the Speaker of the National Assembly to overturn the motion of no-confidence or the incredulous cases paraded in front of the Chief Justice – has relieved it of the implications of Article 106 (6) and 106 (7) of the constitution. There has been no stay on the constitutional clock of three months and 50 days have already elapsed.

At the very least, the APNU+AFC government was required to recognise that Cabinet no longer exists as a consequence of the motion of no confidence and should therefore not be meeting. This has been utterly disregarded. It was also the responsibility of the government to set an election date and provide whatever resources were required by GECOM to discharge its mandate.

Not even the decision of Chief Justice George upholding the validity of the no-confidence motion has been able to inspire the government to adhere to the constitution. Instead, the government continues to place stock in appealing these matters all the way to the CCJ as a pure delay tactic.

As was pointed out in yesterday’s editorial, on the expiration of the three months for general elections, the government will be considered to be illegally in office with all of the attendant implications for the functioning of the state and its international relations. Taking the GECOM timetable into consideration, the government would then have to seek the support of the opposition PPP/C for an enlargement of the three-month time frame and would clearly have to give iron-clad guarantees on a date for the holding of the elections.

The opportunistic arguments that are being bandied about by government ministers and supporters about the need for house-to-house registration are nonsensical. House-to-house registration is probably being peddled  as a negotiating chip for a few more months beyond the three-month deadline set by the constitution.

It must be reiterated that the continuous registration exercise which GECOM has engaged in over the years has seen the registration of youth whose names will be extracted to form the preliminary voters list (PVL) when they attain the age of majority. All of this gnashing of teeth over young people who supposedly wouldn’t be able to vote without house-to-house registration is pure poppycock and political gamesmanship.  One expects that when the election timetable is worked out and agreed at GECOM that it will include a window for claims and objections to the PVL and that all those who are desirous of voting will be added.

President Granger and his government cannot countenance the violation of the constitution – the supreme law of the country – for the mere purpose of remaining in office and holding on to power. His most important duty as President is the upholding of the constitution.  Unfortunately, his government is in extravagant breach of the constitution and this must cease immediately.

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