Appeals against judge's elections ruling

Guyana Chronicle
January 29, 2001

GEORGETOWN, CANA - The decision of a High Court judge to declare Guyana's December 1997 general elections null and void is expected to be challenged before the country's Appeal Court today, sources said yesterday.

The two separate appeals will be against Justice Claudette Singh's ruling of January 15 that the legislation requiring use of voter-specific ID cards was unconstitutional and, therefore, "vitiated", or invalidated the elections.

Senior Counsel and former chairman of the 1997 Elections Commission, Doodnauth Singh will challenge the ruling on behalf of the Commission, while Senior Counsel Ralph Ramkarran and a leading member of the governing People's Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/Civic) will file his appeal on behalf of former President Janet Jagan as head of the PPP/Civic list of candidates for the 1997 poll.

Ramkarran told CANA yesterday that the court would be asked to treat the application for appeal against the judge's ruling on the voter ID cards issue as "a matter of great urgency".

Since Guyana has abandoned access to the Privy Council, its Appeal Court is its court of last resort.

Eleven days after declaring the entire elections void - unprecedented in modern Commonwealth parliamentary history, according to a senior law lecturer of the University of the West Indies - the judge, however, delivered her "Consequential Orders", ruling that the PPP/Civic government could remain in power until new elections are held on March 19.

The PPP/Civic had won the elections with 55.3 per cent of the valid votes and an overall parliamentary majority of seven seats. But the main opposition People's National Congress (PNC) of former President Desmond Hoyte refused to accept the results, claiming massive irregularities, and subsequently moved to the court with a petition.

All parties in parliament, including the PNC, had unanimously passed in parliament on September 18, 1997, the Electoral Laws (Amendment) Bill that provided for the use of voter ID cards.

Although ruling that the elections were unlawful because of the unconstitutional requirement for voter-specific ID cards for the casting of ballots, the judge, however, declined to uphold the contention of the petition that the irregularities were so massive as to affect the final results.

"In the present case," she said, "while the final results might have been so affected as a mere possibility, for the Court to find this as a probability would necessarily involve the Court in speculation and the Court cannot speculate...."

On January 26, Justice Singh ordered the PPP/Civic government to remain in office until new elections - already previously scheduled for March 19 by the Elections Commission.

But the restrictions included that the parliament shall continue to function but only for the purpose of enacting legislation for the conduct of the coming elections and in connection with the provisions of the Accord that was brokered by a three-member Caribbean Community (CARICOM) "peace mission" in January 1998.

As the lawyers were preparing over the weekend to challenge the ruling before the Appeal Court, the Elections Commission was engaged in the production of new national identification cards that will entitle eligible electors to cast their ballots on March 19.

The final voters list is expected to reveal that some 420,000 Guyanese, 18 years and over, are eligible to vote. Distribution of the cards is expected to begin from Thursday, February 1 through February 25.

Nomination Day for candidates is expected to be February 15. But, according to lawyers, it may be first necessary for the parliament to meet and approve an amendment to the Guyana constitution to protect the use of the National ID cards and the final electoral register for the conduct of the coming poll.

The Elections Commission is expected to meet today to consider what specific recommendations should be made for relevant legislation, particularly in view of Justice Singh's ruling of January 15 on voter-specific ID cards.

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