Elections results upheld
- use of voter ID cards unconstitutional

Guyana Chronicle
January 16, 2001

JUSTICE Claudette Singh yesterday said she was unable to prove whether irregularities and illegalities were enough to displace the final results of the December 15, 1997 general and regional elections.

She said although these affected the elections, she could not say if they would have been sufficient to displace the final results.

Justice Singh, however, concluded that the amended legislation which provided for the use of the voter ID cards in the 1997 elections was unconstitutional and therefore the election was vitiated (invalid) on that limb.

She is to this morning meet lawyers on both sides to discuss possible consequential orders and the question of costs to the petitioner.

The judge's decision which took more than three hours to deliver, was the result of an election petition brought by the main Opposition People's National Congress (PNC) through Esther Perreira challenging the validity of the 1997 elections, which were won by the People's Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/Civic).

Among other things, Perreira in her petition had said that the elections were so flawed that the results could not have been effected by the will of the people.

While the PNC claimed the judge's decision justified their stand against the elections, the PPP/Civic maintained that her decision was based on a technical violation.

At a news conference at its Freedom House headquarters yesterday afternoon, the PPP/Civic said: "It is to be noted that the judge found no evidence of fraud."

In a statement, the governing party pointed out that "prior to the 1997 General and Regional Elections, the Elections Commission recommended the Voter Identification Law and the Inter Party Committee on Electoral Reform (IPCER) unanimously supported it. Also all political parties in Parliament supported the passage of the legislation."

It argued that as a consequence of these circumstances, no blame can be attached to any political party.

"Alternatively, if any blame lies, it must be shared equally by all the Parliamentary parties", it said.

Before delivering her judgment, the judge referred to the different aspects of the case pertaining to evidence of 294 witnesses as well as discrepancies, irregularities and illegalities that were discovered.

She referred to ballot boxes with wrong numbers, unsigned and forged statements of poll, allegations about defective voter ID cards and the use of voter ID cards that were invalid, due to their unconstitutional nature.

The judge based her decision on the legislation which brought into being the voter ID cards as the only means of voter identification which she held breached Article 159 of the 1980 Constitution.

Article 159 provides that a person is entitled to vote at elections as long as he/she reaches the age of 18 years and is a citizen of Guyana or a Commonwealth citizen who is a resident and domiciled in Guyana.

But according to the judge, to make a voter identification card the only form of identification was bad in law and against the Constitution.

Justice Singh referred to a substantial body of irregularities that took place during and after the 1997 elections.

Lawyers Mr Rex Mc Kay S.C. and Mr Keith Massiah, S.C. for PNC leader, Mr Desmond Hoyte as well as Mr Peter Briton, S.C. for the Petitioner Perreira, called on the court for a consequential order and costs.

In support of his contention, Mc Kay said that the particular Respondent, the Commissioner of Elections had brought 278 witnesses as against 16 brought by the petitioner.

He added, "We were here at the mercy of the Chairman of the Elections Commission, Mr Doodnauth Singh, extending and prolonging the hearing."

Mr Llewellyn John who appeared for the Good and Green Guyana and who had earlier indicated that his party would not abide by the ruling declared, "We always said that the legislation providing for the voters ID card was invalid."

John said he had a case pending before Justice Winston Moore that dealt with the invalid voter ID cards.

Britton who along with Mr Raphael Trotman appeared for the Petitioner, said he would be asking for costs for two counsel.

Reacting to the call for costs, Mr Ralph Ramkarran S.C. who along with Mr Doodnauth Singh, S.C. and Mr Khemraj Ramjattan appeared for the Elections Commission, told the judge that in considering the question of costs, she should take into account that the petitioner's case had fallen down on the factual aspects and had only succeeded on the constitutional limb.

Mc Kay interrupted Ramkarran to claim it was untrue to say that the petitioner had failed in the factual aspects of the case and declared that the judge did find that certain irregularities though not sufficient to change the results did affect them.

There was no statement from the PNC on the case up to last night.

In its statement, the PPP/Civic said the trial judge "upheld the argument advanced by our Counsel that irregularities have to affect the result of the elections before an order vitiating the elections can be made."

"The trial judge held that such irregularities as have been proved cannot be said to have affected the results of the elections.

"It is to be noted that the Judge found no evidence of fraud", it stressed.

The PPP/Civic added:

"The question may be asked as to whether the government is illegal. The answer is that the judge did not rule and was not required to rule on the legality or illegality of the government.

"The judge was required to rule on the elections.

"One consequential order of the judge's ruling would have been to fix a date for elections. The judge said that she did not fix a date because elections are to be held on March 19.

"Nevertheless, this issue is to be further explored tomorrow (today) when lawyers would be given an opportunity to address the judge.

"We wish to make it abundantly clear that the government is not illegal and has never been illegal and no court has so ruled.

"The government is and has lawfully been in place at all times and will remain in place until the March 19 elections.

"While we do not trivialise the judge's ruling, it must be stressed that the ruling that the elections are vitiated is based on a technical, legal matter and is not based on any alleged irregularity in the conduct of the elections which the judge found was not sufficient to affect the results of the elections.

"The PPP/Civic won the elections. This is confirmed by the ruling.

"Our lawyers are considering the issue of appeal and we will await their advice before taking any further steps."

Justice Singh stated that the purpose of the petition was not to put any party in office and she noted fresh elections are already scheduled for March 19.

"First of all, it means that the PNC and other parties and persons who demonstrated against this flawed and corrupt elections of December 15, 1997 have now been vindicated," Hoyte told reporters outside the court.

"The judge has ruled that the elections are null and void and this means that Janet Jagan was never constitutionally and legally the President of this country and consequentially also that (President Bharrat) Jagdeo has never been constitutionally and legally the President and that this PPP/Civic government in place, is illegal, unlawful and unconstitutional. So, we are facing a constitutional crisis," Hoyte said.

He added that the PNC wants nothing to upset plans for the scheduled March 19 elections.

But Ramkarran argued at the PPP/Civic news conference that the country was not in a constitutional crisis.

"Far from it...because there is no order that the government must leave office. That's the only thing that can constitute a constitutional crisis", he said.

He said the consequences of the decision have to be studied but maintained that the government and parliament are legal until new elections.

PPP/Civic General Secretary, Mr Donald Ramotar noted that the decision to use the voter ID cards was a unanimous stand by the four parties in Parliament and Ramkarran pointed out that he had argued at length during the hearing that the ID card law was not unconstitutional.

Ramkarran also noted that the judge's decision on the ID cards means that a similar requirement for the March 19 elections has to be looked at again.

Ramotar argued that the judge's ruling vindicates the conclusions of local and overseas observers that the results of the elections were above board and that the process was free and fair.

Ramjattan maintained that there were no contradictions in the judge's decision because she specifically said that the results of the elections were not affected.

"All the players in the game had agreed to the use of the ID cards" for the 1997 elections, he said.

Ramotar said the most important factor was that the judge did not rule against the results of the elections and Ramjattan stressed that she had made it clear that the results were not affected.

"The results of the elections were not invalidated", Ramjattan said.

Ramkarran noted that had the voter ID card law not been challenged, the elections would have stood.

He pointed out too that no elections are without irregularities.

All parties agreed to voter ID card law

ON SEPTEMBER 18, 1997, the National Assembly unanimously passed the Electoral Laws Amendment Bill 1997. The Bill was subsequently assented to on October 1 by then President Sam Hinds.

That Bill provided for the use of voter ID cards for the December 15 1997 elections.

The Bill was introduced by Leader of the House, Mr Reepu Daman Persaud and in pledging the support of the main Opposition People's National Congress (PNC), Mr Winston Murray said, "We of the People's National Congress unreservedly support this Bill (applause)..." (As recorded in Hansard, the official record of proceedings in Parliament.)

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