Politics -- after judge's ruling

by Rickey Singh
Guyana Chronicle
January 28, 2001

NOW that Justice Claudette Singh has given her decision on retention of Guyana's governance 'status quo' until the outcome of new elections, we can expect the campaign for the March 19 poll to swing into top gear, hopefully in a climate of peace, not conflict.

With plenty of political casualties -- individuals and parties - before Nomination Day, expected by February 15, the major focus will remain on the two dominant contenders for power, the incumbent PPP/Civic and the PNC/Reform.

And relatedly, the battle for the presidency by the 36-year-old Bharrat Jagdeo and the 71-year-old Hoyte, amid much rhetoric about leadership qualities, youth development, credibility and national unity.

Right now, clearly upset by the judge's decision, the PNC, whose 'reform' wing was having its own kind of ceremonial launching last night, contends that the governing PPP/Civic remains "illegal" and it will treat it as such.

A predictable response from the PNC/Reform that wanted the government replaced as from January 18.

The fact is that this "illegal" government is the same that made possible legislation to ensure the PNC retain its 25 parliamentary seats after some six months of boycott of the parliament.

Its leader, Desmond Hoyte, was a co-author with Janet Jagan of the CARICOM-brokered 'Herdmanston Accord' that was endorsed by a supposedly "illegal parliament' followed by constitutional reform.


To follow the logic of the shouters of "illegality", they are very much part of what they wish others to perceive and treat as "illegitimate".

It is raw politics, what else? The people have their own way of quietly and effectively dealing with the 'politricks' of all parties.

THE APPEAL Tomorrow, lawyers for the governing PPP/Civic will file their appeal against the judge's unprecedented ruling of January 15 to void the entire December

15, 1997 elections on the basis that use of voter-specific ID cards was a constitutional violation.

The requirement for the voter ID cards was approved unanimously by all of the parliamentary parties, including the main opposition People's National Congress (PNC) on whose behalf the elections petition was filed in the name of Esther Perreira.

If indeed, it was illegal to pass the ID card legislation as their parliamentary representatives did on September 18, 1997, then all of the parties must equally share the blame.

The lawyers challenging the judge's ruling on the unconstitutionality of the ID cards are expected to ask the Guyana Court of Appeal to treat their application as a matter of utmost urgency because of its national importance.

For its part, the Guyana Elections Commission will be meeting tomorrow to review the implications of the judge's decision.

The commission needs to quickly ensure that all legal requirements are being met for the conduct of the March 19 poll and, specifically in terms of those qualified to be on the final electoral register.

It is likely that it may come up with a recommendation to the government for a constitutional amendment that makes it pellucidly clear that only those Guyanese citizens, 18 years and over and who have been photographed, will be eligible to vote at the forthcoming elections.

As all Guyanese at home and abroad are aware -- including those now talking their talk about "illegal" or "illegitimate" government - the voter-specific ID cards became a requirement to avoid multiple forms of identification of those exercising their right to vote.

The sordid history of rigged elections under the dispensation of the

PNC, had featured more than enough of controversial multiple forms of identification and multiple voting.

To their credit, the parliamentary parties decided to end that practice.

But the route chosen -- Election Laws Amendment Bill 1997, instead of the relevant sections of the Constitution -- was found to be wrong.

Consequently the judge's ruling on constitutional violation and declaring the elections null and void.

It has not escaped attention, nationally, regionally and further afield, despite some clever political efforts, that the elections were not declared to be unlawful because of fraud. Fraudulent elections were the form until 1992.

CAC'S FINDINGS Before Justice Singh's ruling -- a pity she did not make her consequential orders sooner, if not on the same January 15 -- the CARICOM Audit Commission was quite emphatic in its conclusion:

"The Commission's examination of 1,843 boxes of ballots cast in all ten regions did not reveal any fraud. The secret code was evident in all ballots scrutinised."

Long before the findings of the CAC, headed by retired appeal court judge of Trinidad and Tobago, Sir Ulric Cross, the independent Electoral Assistance Bureau of Guyana had noted that the December 1997 poll was free and fair and the "best witnessed in three decades".

I do not know to what extent the Elections Commission plans on involving the EAB, the private sector and civil society in general in enabling the process to ensure free and fair elections on March 19.

But it seems pointless if assurances are not to be supported by honest, credible efforts to mobilise support, without prejudice, to guarantee the freely expressed will of the electorate.

The commission must know that it will also be under intense scrutiny, and not just by foreign observers.

After last evening's scheduled ceremonial introduction of some of its candidates/supporters, the 'reform' segment -- hitherto comprising of known

old allies of the PNC -- will come next Sunday's launch of the PPP/Civic elections campaign when some new faces in its 'Civic' component should be known.

It is good to know that there is a sprinkling of overseas-based Guyanese who may be on the lists of candidates for the March 19 poll.

I think that the presence of some of them, either on the platforms or on the lists, could be more counter-productive than helpful. More of this later.

However, they and all other candidates of the 20 something parties must be given a chance to "represent the people" whose interest they say they want to serve.

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