Government stays in office - judge rules
Not a time for claiming victory - PPP/C
January 27, 2001
ALMOST two weeks of sometimes tense waiting ended yesterday afternoon when Justice Claudette Singh ruled she had no power to order President Bharrat Jagdeo or the government to leave office.
"I have no authority to ask the President, the Cabinet nor anyone in the government to step down. And no one has drawn my attention to any such authority.
"Therefore the government will remain in office until the March 19 elections", she said to a packed courtroom.
Her decision was delivered in about 10 minutes and the judge promised a written version next week.
Justice Singh's decision closed the latest chapter in an almost three-year court battle by the main Opposition People's National Congress (PNC) to overturn the December 15, 1997 elections at which the governing People's Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) was returned to office.
The PNC through supporter Esther Perreira had challenged the results of the elections.
Justice Singh last week found that irregularities were not enough for her to displace the results of the elections but ruled that the use of special voter ID cards to which the PNC and other parties had agreed was unconstitutional.
This led to a renewed bid by the PNC and its lawyers to push for the government to leave office and be replaced by an interim mechanism.
President Bharrat Jagdeo, in an address to the nation last night, said his government "respects the ruling and the orders of the judge."
"We remain satisfied that the judge's findings are consistent with the conclusions of the international bodies which observed the elections and with the will of the people expressed at the elections", he said.
"The judge, in simple terms, has therefore ordered that your President, the Cabinet and the government continue in office to perform their mandate", he said, adding that voluntary restraints on the exercise of presidential and state powers in the run-up to the March 19 elections will remain in place.
He, however, appealed to all political parties to "continue to work together to ensure these elections are conducted efficiently and can withstand the most careful scrutiny." (Text of address to the nation on page two.)
The PPP/C at a news conference after the judge's ruling said while it was "undoubtedly pleased at the final outcome of this matter, this is not a time for claiming victory or for triumphalism."
ELECTORATE DESERVES ATMOSPHERE OF PEACE
"The electorate deserves an atmosphere of peace and tranquility to be able to listen to the debates and make up their minds", it said in a statement.
But Senior Counsel, Mr Rex McKay, head lawyer for PNC leader, Mr Desmond Hoyte, a respondent in the case, was not happy with the judge's remarks.
"...there simply was no necessity for her to say she didn't have the power to let the President and the Executive demit office, when it fact she did say in the order that they will function under and by virtue of that very order...which in fact means that they are not functioning as the continuous government", McKay argued. (See page 14)
After Justice Singh handed down her ruling, a crowd of PNC supporters beyond the police barriers on Croal Street vented their disapproval by calling for Hoyte. Some in the crowd waved his portraits.
Some dispersed after attorney-at-law and PNC Member of Parliament, Mr Raphael Trotman who was associated in representing Perreira and Perreira herself spoke with them, urging that they remain calm and concentrate on the elections.
Police said there were no incidents after the ruling and life in Georgetown was normal.
The judge's consequential order also gave temporary validation to all acts and things done by the National Assembly, (the Government) from December 15, 1997 onwards.
And, according to Justice Singh, the Legislature from the March 19, 2001 elections will validate the temporary validated acts upon assuming office.
She said elections must be held on or before March 31 this year and the state media must only be used for election purposes through paid advertisements.
Dealing with the request for costs against the Elections Commission and the Chief Elections Officer, Justice Singh granted costs against the Elections Commission fit for three Senior Counsel and two counsel.
The judge ordered the costs to be taxed.
The PPP/C said it would be appealing her decision in relation to the unconstitutionality of the voter ID law.
The elections petition by Perreira, of South Sophia, Georgetown, among other things had complained about the unlawful use of voter ID cards.
All parties in Parliament had voted for the use of the cards.
Perreira had also complained about irregularities and flaws which she claimed was of such a nature that the results could not have been the will of the people.
Senior Counsel Mr Ralph Ramkarran, for the other side had told the judge that in awarding costs she should bear in mind that all the members of the House then present, had been unanimous in passing the amendment of the legislation which resulted in the use of voter ID cards.
The new act which had amended the 1980 Constitution, required a voter identification card as the only means of identification at the 1997 elections.
The hearing lasted almost three years and 285 witnesses testified.
The petition was also historic in that it was the first of its kind to be held in the country under the system of Proportional Representation, where the entire country was viewed as one constituency.
The other elections petitions heard previously were done under the First Past the Post system and dealt with individual constituencies.
The Esther Perreira elections petition also reportedly had the highest number of legal representatives.
There were so many that some dropped out during the hearing and were not missed.
The legal line up for the Elections Commission included Senior Counsel, Mr Stanley Hardyal, Mr Doodnauth Singh, S.C., Ramkarran; Mr Ronald Gajraj; Mr Hubert Rodney; Mr Khemraj Ramjattan and others.
For the petitioner was Mr Peter Britton, S.C. associated with Mr Raphael Trotman.
For Hoyte, was McKay S.C., associated with Mr Keith Massiah, S.C., and Mr Shawn Allicock.
The other respondents were represented respectively by Mr Llewellyn John, Mr Saphier Husain, Mr Sampson and Mr Miles Fitzpatrick, S.C.
Lawyers for the two sides were expected to yesterday morning deliver a joint draft report to Justice Singh.
They met the judge in chambers throughout the morning and a lunch break was taken before Ms Singh gave her decision.
After two meetings earlier in the week the lawyers Thursday appeared to have been still deeply split on reaching a common position but few details emerged from their sessions.
Lawyers representing the Elections Commission and the interests of the PPP/C contended that the judge did not find the elections were fraudulent and the `doctrine of necessity' should prevail, allowing the situation to remain the same, with some limitations, until elections are held.
Ms Singh had twice postponed the order to flow from her ruling and Tuesday asked lawyers for both sides to try to agree on a consensus to be referred to her by yesterday when she was to give her consequential order.
The report of consensus or no consensus was not to be binding on the judge.
McKay had requested the judge to make a consequential order that will clearly state that the acts of the de facto government would be validated up to the time of judgment and that the said government be replaced by a caretaker administration until elections by March 31, 2001.
Mr Jeff Cumberbatch, senior Law Lecturer of the University of the West Indies (UWI) Cave Hill Campus in Barbados took a different view in an interview with the BBC Caribbean Report Wednesday.
"I somehow believe that the optimal solution would be to have the status quo continue but with some adjustment", he said.
(CHRONICLE NEWS DESK WITH REPORTING BY GEORGE BARCLAY AND WENDELLA DAVIDSON)
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