PNC/R criticises judge over orders in elections case

Guyana Chronicle
January 28, 2001

THE main Opposition People's National Congress/Reform (PNC/R) has strongly criticised Justice Claudette Singh because she said she has no power to ask President Bharrat Jagdeo and his government to leave office.

Ending two weeks of sometimes tense waiting Friday afternoon, the judge declared:

"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.

Justice Singh's decision closed the latest chapter in an almost three-year court battle by the PNC/R to overturn the December 15, 1997 elections at which the governing People's Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) was returned to office.

And that decision has the PNC/R bristling.

It claimed in a statement Friday night that her decision "sends a provocative signal to all patriotic Guyanese" and it did not legitimise the "PPP regime".

"The judge and the court cannot forestall the wishes of the Guyanese people. March 19 will be the day of reckoning", the PNC/R argued in the statement which was sent to other media houses and not the Chronicle. This newspaper, however, obtained a copy of the PNC/R press release yesterday.

Justice Singh on January 15 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 Friday 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."

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."

"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 the PNC/R declared that the judge's orders are "a travesty and fly in the face of reason and justice."

It claimed that it and the "hundreds of thousands of Guyanese who placed their hope for justice on the consequential orders that were naturally to flow from Justice Singh's findings on January 15 that the 1997 elections were characterised by massive irregularities and illegalities are understandably incensed."

The opposition party said the government "remains illegal and the PNC/REFORM will so treat with it." It did not elaborate.

It contended that the judge's decision to allow the powers of the government to "remain practically unfettered not only renders her earlier decision ineffective, but establishes a dangerous precedent and sends a provocative signal to all patriotic Guyanese."

Lawyers for the PNC in the elections petition case had called for the government to be replaced by an interim mechanism until the March 19 elections but the government's lawyers strongly opposed this, insisting that the judge did not find the elections fraudulent.

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 PNC/R leader, Mr Desmond Hoyte. Some in the crowd waved his portraits.

Some dispersed after attorney-at-law and PNC/R Member of Parliament, Mr Raphael Trotman who was associated in representing petitioner Esther Perreira (a PNC supporter) 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 remained normal yesterday.

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.

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.

Mr Jeff Cumberbatch, senior Law Lecturer of the University of the West Indies (UWI) Cave Hill Campus in Barbados, differed with the suggestion that the government should step down, 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.

The PPP/C said the judge's orders were "wise and just".

"We are happy with these orders which we believe to be wise and just and fully in accordance with the legal authorities we cited and with the submissions we made", said Mr Ralph Ramkarran, Senior Counsel, reading a prepared statement at a news briefing at PPP/C Freedom House headquarters in Georgetown.

"Any other course would have been outside the scope of the judge's power which she recognised by acknowledging that she had no jurisdiction to order the President and Parliament to demit office", he argued.

Ramkarran, a member of the PPP Central Executive was the lead attorney for the Elections Commission and related respondents in the petition.

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