GECOM votes to advise that elections cannot be held within 90 days; House-to-house registration process to begin
The Guyana Elections Commission today met and voted to formally advise that it cannot hold elections within the 90 days period after the passage of the no-confidence motion against the government.
The Constitution calls for elections to be held within 90 days after the passage of the motion or at a time agreed to by two-thirds of the National Assembly. With the passage of the no-confidence vote on December 21, 2018, the 90 period will expire on March 20, 2019.
The Elections Commission also voted to advise that it is not in a position financially to host elections without an appropriation from the National Assembly. In addition, the Commission also voted today to continue with its work plan for 2019 as the other two issues are being addressed.
That work plan for 2019 includes the start of the house-to-house registration process.
The three government nominated members of the Commission voted in favour of the three motions. With regard to the first motion about the Commission advising that it cannot host elections within the 90 days period, one of the Opposition nominared Commissioners abstained from the vote, while the other two voted against.
In the other two motions, all three opposition nominated Commissioners voted against and the Chairman used his tie-breaking vote to side with the Commissioners nominated by the Government.
Commissioner Vincent Alexander today said “what GECOM has said is that it is not in a state of readiness to run an election in 90 days as a matter of fact, and based on advice that we got from the Ministry of Finance, we do not have the resources, the money, to run the elections. They indicated that we cannot use the money for national registration and move it over to elections. What we have to do is go back to the National Assembly for a special appropriation for elections. We don’t have an appropriation for elections. It is not in the 2019 budget”.
$3 billion was budgeted and approved in the last national budget for house-to-house registration to begin this year. The passage of the budget came before the no-confidence motion and vote.
The Guyana Elections Commission last week sought the advice of the Finance Ministry about the possibility of transferring the allocated money for registration and instead use it for the elections.
The Finance Ministry pointed out that such a move would be unlawful without the approval of the National Assembly.
The Opposition People’s Progressive Party has been making known its opposition to the house to house registration process and has also been pressing for elections within 90 days of the passage of the no confidence motion.
Two weeks ago, the Chief Elections Officer, Keith Lowenfield advised that it was impossible for elections to be held within the 90 days period.
He provided a scenario that placed the earliest possible date for early elections in the month July, with that timeline shifting in the absence of the actual preparations for the elections getting underway.
Political crisis widens with GECOM voting against elections in 90 days
The country has been thrown into further uncertainty with the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) voting to continue “normal activity” and to inform the President that new general elections cannot be held by the constitutional deadline.
With the passage of the No Confidence motion on December 21 that toppled the David Granger led Coalition, the Constitution dictates elections in 90 days, putting the deadline at March 21.
On Tuesday, Justice James Patterson, the Chairman of the Commission, voted with the three Government nominated Commissioners for the President to be told that the March 21 deadline cannot be met, that there is no money for the holding of the elections and that GECOM continues with its work programme.
The Opposition PPP has accused GECOM of colluding with the Government to stall elections.
The Government has appealed a High Court decision which declared that the No Confidence vote was legal and valid and that the Government cannot remain in office beyond the constitutional deadline unless there is a vote in the National Assembly by two-thirds of the Members for an extension.
The Chief Justice at the time refused to grant orders sought by the Attorney General for the status quo to remain and to “stay” the enforcement of the Parliamentary No-Confidence vote.
GECOM can get funding for elections with a Parliamentary vote, which the Opposition is inclined to support.
Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo has said the Government has shown bad faith and is operating that it is business as usual. And so, he was not clear about whether the Opposition will agree to an extension of the date for elections.
The President has not approached the Opposition Leader to discuss a date for elections; the Government says it is awaiting the outcome of court action, which is certain to go all the way to the Caribbean Court of Justice.
GECOM votes to hold new registration
The Guyana Elections Commission has decided by way of vote that new General and Regional Elections cannot be held in 90 days; that the Commission does not have funding for such and that house-to-house registration, as budgeted for 2019, will commence immediately.
The first decision was voted by the Commissioners 3-2 with the absentia of one People’s Progressive Party (PPP) Commissioner while the two others were voted for 3-3 by the Commissioners with the GECOM Chair breaking the tie in favour of the motions.
“GECOM will continue its routine plan for 2019,” Commissioner Vincent Alexander told the Guyana Chronicle outside the Commission on Tuesday.
“GECOM had budgeted for house-to-house registration and therefore what they will do, essentially, is to start the work that is required for house-to-house registration. They have instructions to start immediately.”
Commissioner Robeson Benn also verified that the motions were all carried.
Meanwhile, regarding funding, Commissioner, Vincent Alexander said that it was carried that there is need for appropriation from Parliament. Just last week, GECOM Chief Elections Officer (CEO) Keith Lowenfield was tasked with seeking out the Ministry of Finance on whether the $3B allocated for house-to-house registration in 2019 could be used to fund elections this year.
“Based on the advice that we got from the Ministry of Finance, we do not have the resources, the monies to run and election at this time,” he said. “They indicated that we cannot use the money for registration to move it over to elections. What we have to do is go back to the National Assembly for a special appropriation for elections.”
Chief Justice Roxane George-Wiltshire in upholding the Speaker’s decision that the no- confidence motion was validly passed, said that Cabinet is separate from government and should resign.
However, Minister of Legal Affairs and Attorney General Basil Williams had pointed out the complication earlier in the month that without Cabinet no financial bills can be taken to Parliament. Alexander said that a date as to when or how the financial matter will move to the National Assembly is up to the country’s political leaders to determine.
Asked whether the decision today will clash with the recent ruling of the Chief Justice, the Commissioner made it clear that GECOM’s position was simply to state its readiness for an election. “GECOM has to advise on its readiness. That’s a factual matter. And what GECOM has said (1) is that it is not in a state of readiness to run elections in 90 days, it’s a matter of fact,” he said.
He added that more or less the Opposition Commissioners had agreed to take the matter to a vote. Alexander said that the meeting represents a form of progress from the previously experienced stalemate.
“There is movement in so far that no one is no longer waiting on us. They know where we stand and it’s for them at the level at which they operate now to take things forward,” he said.
GECOM will now inform President David Granger on its decisions.
The Commission will meet again on Tuesday or Thursday based upon the request of the America, Britain, Canada and the European Union (ABCE) who they expected to meet with next.
Wrangling over elections continues… Apnu says voters’ list bloated, PPP calls it valid
At a time when Guyana is supposed to be speedily gearing for General and Regional Elections, even the Voters’ List is something that the main political parties cannot agree on at the level of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM).
Today marks 60 days since the Bharrat Jagdeo-sponsored no-confidence motion was passed against the APNU+AFC government.
According to the constitution, the passage of a no-confidence motion results in the automatic fall of government and elections are to be held within three months. However, just a few days shy of two months after the motion was passed, no date for elections has been given.
It is well known that the government has filed an appeal to the Chief Justice’s interpretation to the effect that elections are due in keeping with the constitution. But, while the country awaits the completion of the court process that promises to be expeditious, GECOM is supposed to be readying itself.
Based on the constitutionally-mandated period for the holding of elections, the date should be March 21. But GECOM is claiming that it cannot be ready by then.
Kaieteur News understands that GECOM is looking at July or next February.
If there is a decision for house-to-house registration, GECOM will be ready by February next year. But if there is a decision to only facilitate claims and objections, GECOM will be ready by July.
But are any of those two options necessary? People’s Progressive Party (PPP) Members on GECOM are saying, “No.”
The Commissioners are sticking to their guns that the current Voters’ List is valid until April 30, which is more than a month after the constitutionally-mandated period for elections would have elapsed.
This newspaper spoke to PPP Commissioner Sase Gunraj yesterday. He said that he is failing to understand the call for a new list.
“The list was used last in 2018 for Local Government Elections. You did not hear so much as a coo from any stakeholders in relation to the validity or otherwise of that list. That very list was used in 2016 and there were no complaints. It is also the same list that was used for the 2015 elections that saw the APNU+AFC taking over.”
Further, Commissioner Gunraj sought to point out that this is the first time elections are required at a time when there is a valid list in accordance with the law, “and we should remember that and act accordingly.”
He said that at every other election, there was either need for house-to-house registration or claims and objections in order to make the list valid. This was the case even in 2015 when the last General and Elections were held.
Even further, Gunraj cited Act number 10 of 2018, which extends the validity of the list from three months after it has been certified to six months. He noted that the list was last certified on 31 October 2018 for the holding of Local Government elections “so it is still valid and should be used to uphold the constitutionally mandated timeline for elections but they are delaying.”
Stakeholders had raised concerns about dead people on the list and the absence of persons who are newly eligible to vote.
Opposition Leader, Bharrat Jagdeo has offered a solution to address the presence of names of people who are dead. He suggested that GECOM just hold a short period of claims and objections “take off the dead people and let’s get on with it.”
But Jagdeo did not address the concern for those who are newly 18.
Gunraj took up that mantle yesterday. He said, “The constitution states that all persons over 18 are eligible to vote. However, the same constitution provides two conditions: you must be 18 years old at the qualifying date and you must be registered.” He said that someone can become 18 days or months after registration closes, “What are we to do?”
While the PPP is steadfast in its position that there is no need for a new list, APNU and the AFC believe that a new list is imperative.
APNU Commissioner, Vincent Alexander spoke to this newspaper. He said that the PPP is being disingenuous.
Alexander said that the PPP, in its elections petition to the court, raised issues about the list. “So they are being dishonest to say there were no issues.”
However, further to PPP’s concerns in 2015, that list was used at two other elections—Local Government Elections of 2016 and 2018.
Despite that, Alexander pointed to another reason why there should be a new list. He said that it was “agreed since 2012 that we will have a new list every seven years. Seven years have gone.”
Further, Alexander said that when PPP’s Robeson Benn joined GECOM after the 2015 elections, “his biggest issue from day one was that the list is flawed. So people are being disingenuous or dishonest when they talk about the list.”
While Alexander pointed out the concerns raised by PPP about the list, he did not speak about any dissatisfaction that APNU or the AFC had with the list prior to the passage of the no-confidence motion.
Asked if any concerns were raised by APNU or the AFC before the no-confidence motion, the APNU Commissioner said, “My concern is not the APNU, PPP or the AFC. My concern is that as a commissioner, I have a responsibility to make sure that we have elections that gives everybody a fair chance. So I do not respond to the APNU or AFC or PPP concerns with being partisan. I respond based on my knowledge of the electoral system and where I feel something is going wrong.”
As he pointed out that he is the longest serving commissioner on GECOM (since 2007), Alexander said, “The fact of the matter is that we have a list that is over 500,000 (573,923) people and our population is just over 700,000. This means that the list could only be bloated.”
He continued, “We had problems in the 1997 elections where people were staging substitute voting. It was brought to (former Chief Elections Officer Gocool) Boodoo’s attention, he promised to look into it, and he did nothing about it. I know that there is a practice of substitute voting and any list that has excess names provides an opportunity for that (substitute voting) and I would not be party to that.”