This week, the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) will hear oral arguments regarding whether 34 votes (as opposed to 33) constitutes a “majority” and is required for a successful passage of a No Confidence Motion brought in Guyana’s 65-membered Parliament, pursuant to Article 106 (6) of the Constitution of Guyana.
In March, Guyana’s Court of Appeal (the Court), in a 2 to 1 vote, controversially overturned a decision by the lower court, which previously held that the aforesaid motion filed by Guyana’s Leader of the Opposition, Dr. Bharrat Jagdeo, was successfully carried by a vote of 33 to 32, thereby warranting the Government’s resignation and new elections.
The Government moved to court arguing that 34 votes were needed. The Court agreed, but in doing so, it erred significantly because the Government’s argument is only applicable in legislative bodies with even-numbered membership. Secondly, the Court’s calculation defied two universally accepted methods used for calculation: the median formula and the PEMDAS method of operation.
For many decades, 33 has been accepted as a “majority” in Guyana’s 65-membered Parliament, as the Constitution of Guyana is silent as to what it is. The Government resorted to a definition found in the Constitution of the Republic of Vanuatu (a tiny island nation in South Pacific Ocean), which says that a “majority” is one-half the number plus one. In mathematical language that is: 1/2 n +1.
Using this formula and a two-step process, the Government argued and the Court agreed that 34 votes were needed from a total of 65 elected members of Parliament, to defeat the Government by way of a No Confidence Motion.
In the first step, we have 65 divided by 2 or (65/2) which is: 32.5 members. This 32.5 is rounded up to 33 in order to avoid having a fraction or a .5 person. In step two, we add 1 to 33. We add 1 because, as we recall, the Vanuatu constitution tells us to do so: one-half the number plus one. Thirty-three plus one is 34 (33+1=34). This is how 34 became the new majority of 65.
The Court of Appeal’s erroneous mathematical calculation
However, as already noted, the Court erred in its calculation when it failed to comply with the median formula and the PEMDAS method of operation. The median formula is one half the sum of numbers plus one, or ½ (n +1). PEMDAS is a universally recognized acronym that tells us in what order we are to perform mathematical operations. It is as follows: parenthesis, exponents, multiplication, division, addition, and finally subtraction.
Here, had the Court complied with the median formula and the PEMDAS method, it would have addressed the items inside the parenthesis first; it would have taken 65 and add 1 to get 66, as its first step. Then as its second step, it would have divided this 66 (66/2) to get 33. Mathematically, 33 constitutes a “majority” in a 65-membered Parliament (as in Guyana).
Without the median formula and the PEMDAS order for calculation, the Court’s method of calculation only works for legislative bodies with even-numbered membership. To illustrate, imagine a parliament has 66 members. What is its majority? Using the Court’s formula of 1/2 n +1, we have half of 66 which is 33 in the first step. In the second step, we add 1 to 33 and that gives us 34. Thus, using the Court’s reasoning, a parliament with 65 members and a parliament with 66 members will have the identical majority of 34!
Dire effects across Caribbean and beyond
Clearly, this flawed method of calculation will introduce unprecedented confusion amongst educational, scientific, and legislative bodies across the entire Caribbean region, if not beyond. The effect is already being felt.
For example, retired Professor Emeritus Errol Miller (The University of the West Indies), a recognized expert in elections matters, admitted that should the CCJ uphold the Court’s decision, it will have serious implications for Trinidad and Tobago’s 41-member Parliament. To avoid chaos on such an extraordinary scale, it is important that the CCJ reject the flawed mathematical reasoning upheld by the Court of Appeal of Guyana.
Prof Dev Rawana, PhD