Elections Watch

Guyana Chronicle
March 24, 2001

`Let's begin a process of healing' - President Jagdeo urges by Wendella Davidson

JUST hours after the People's Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) won the 2001 general and regional elections with 209,031 votes against 164,074 for the People's National Congress/REFORM (PNC/R), President-elect Bharrat Jagdeo pleaded to Guyanese to lay to rest what had happened during the elections, to remain calm and begin a process of healing.

He also urged leaders of the main opposition, the PNC/R and the other political parties, to appeal to their supporters to let calm prevail in the country.

Mr Jagdeo, who will be serving his second term in office as President, recalled hearing Chairman of the PNC/REFORM, Mr Robert Corbin on at least two occasions appeal to the party's supporters for calm, a gesture he publicly endorsed.

Speaking from the GTV 11 studios in Georgetown, President Jagdeo said that over the past two months the country has witnessed a keen political contest involving a number of political parties and which culminated on Monday with the electorate going to the polls.

Noting that the situation in instances became tense and that this continues even after, President Jagdeo said the obligation of all the political parties now is to ensure that the country returns to normalcy and see it move forward.

"...it's time now to heal our nation. We have to move on. Our people are demanding that we move on...," he told reporters.

He urged supporters to call on the political parties they represent to make very positive statements about the need to maintain peace and calm at this time.

Acknowledging that this country's electoral process was not without difficulties, the President said he was however pleased that the international and local observers all endorsed the elections as reflecting the will of the people.

"We need to maintain calm at this time...it is time now for us to focus on working together to ensure the things that matter most to the citizens of the country, such as securing jobs for the youths, ensuring better education, health care and housing and strengthening of the democracy."

"We can work together and deliver those things quickly if this period is put behind us in a way that the country can be proud of us," he added.

President Jagdeo dispelled rumours suggesting he was "secretly" sworn in as President earlier in the day.

He noted the legal challenge to his swearing-in and said he would not be sworn in unless this is discharged.

He noted that early yesterday, Chairman of the Guyana Elections, Major General Joe Singh, in the presence of all six Commissioners signed an order declaring him, by virtue of his party's win, as President of the country.

As is customary, the signing is followed by an official swearing-in ceremony, but President Jagdeo said this will not be done while the legal process is in train, as he respects the law of the country.

He urged Guyanese to ensure "our country cannot go back through the trauma we went through in 1997," referring to street troubles and violence in Georgetown after the December 1997 elections.

Mr Jagdeo added that as a citizen and President he at all times respected the laws of the country and will continue to so do.

President Jagdeo reminded too of a promise he made during the elections campaign and of a vision in the party's manifesto of inclusivity.

"... there may be people who did not vote for the PPP/C, but my vision included all of them...," he reiterated, adding that his hope is for all Guyanese to work together.

The President's vision of inclusivity, he told reporters, does not relate only to the legislative arm of the government but will include other arms of the government and can see the PPP/C Government party comprising persons from outside the party.

Among the immediate plans of President Jagdeo is to meet Mr Desmond Hoyte, as Leader of the Opposition.

Asked about his Cabinet, President Jagdeo without disclosing names said he has plans to name the Cabinet from next week, depending on the outcome of the legal challenge, and that it will contain changes.

"There will be changes in the Cabinet...I think I've had enough time to assess the performance of the various ministers as President...I have already decided what kinds of changes will be in the Cabinet...I have already made that decision."

Haslyn Parris attacked NEWLY-ELECTED President Bharrat Jagdeo yesterday joined Chairman of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM), Major General Joe Singh and other Commissioners in denouncing a vicious attack on Mr Haslyn Parris, a member of GECOM.

Parris, a People's National Congress/Reform (PNC/R) member on the independent GECOM, was reportedly attacked after sitting in at the 04:20 hrs announcement of the final results of Monday's general and regional elections at GECOM media centre at the Tower Hotel yesterday.

Referring to the incident at a news briefing last evening at the GTV 11 studios in Georgetown, President Jagdeo said it was "deplorable, terrible" that Parris should face such action.

He called for all decent-minded Guyanese to condemn such a vicious attack, which it is reported apparently stemmed from a response he gave to a question at the announcement of the final elections results.

In a televised statement, Chairman Singh said he and Commission members were "distraught" and "extremely concerned" about the development which led to Parris being attacked and his car destroyed.

He was reportedly attacked by a crowd as he was leaving the PNC/R Congress Place headquarters in Georgetown yesterday.

Singh said it was his duty as Chairman of the commission to speak out if "a respected citizen such as Mr Parris could bear the wrath of persons who are unfamiliar or ignorant of the processes involved in these elections."

He recalled that at a brief news conference after the elections results were announced yesterday morning, Parris was asked by a reporter whether he was satisfied with the integrity of the elections process, and whether the results truly reflect the will of the people.

And according to the Chairman, the answer by Parris was very clear, unambiguous, and given in a professional manner.

He stated that a Stabroek News article published yesterday denounced the results as being rejected by the Commission as a consensus position and said this was inaccurate.

According to Singh, all members of the Commission were unanimous in their acceptance of the report by the Chief Elections Officer, Mr Gocool Boodoo on the finality and accuracy of the elections results which showed the PPP/C won.

However, the Parris response seemed to have triggered off in the minds of some supporters of one of the parties that Parris was in some way a traitor, he said.

"This is most unfortunate and whoever put up those persons to destroy the mind, the integrity and the character of this very respected son of the soil, I think has done quite a lot of damage to the image of themselves, the parties they represent, and to the character of Mr Parris," the GECOM Chairman said.

He added that the Commission views with great alarm and concern the turn of events, adding that persons who feel that they have been wronged can have a recourse by going to the law.

The Commission will have no problem with anyone being critical of the process, he added.

Singh was also critical of the newspaper article which he said again misled the public by inferring that Parris was in some way responsible for a decision that went against the use of the new national ID card for voting on Election Day, by persons who were not on the list.

The Chairman pointed out that it was Parris who suggested that persons who legitimately held ID cards but did not have their names on the list, should be allowed to so.

He sees such an inference as a travesty and called for a public condemnation of the act of violence against Parris.

The GECOM Chairman wished too that Parris and his family are given adequate protection so that he will not face further vilification and shame to his impeccable character.

Parris was a former Deputy Prime Minister when the PNC was in government and has been a high-level member of the party.

PNC/R tries to block swearing in of President Jagdeo

by George Barclay

LEGAL CHAT: Senior Counsel Mr Ralph Ramkarran, right and colleague Mr Llewellyn John after the session yesterday.

PRESIDENT Bharrat Jagdeo whose People's Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) has won the 2001 elections, was yesterday declared elected President of Guyana by Elections Commission Chairman Major General Joe Singh.

But his swearing in ceremony by Chancellor Cecil Kennard scheduled for yesterday afternoon, has been postponed.

Chief Justice Desiree Bernard, who is hearing a motion brought by People's National Congress Reform (PNC/R) executive member Joseph Hamilton to prohibit Singh from making the declaration and the Chancellor from performing the swearing in ceremony, requested the commission Chairman to postpone the ceremony.

The request from the Chief Justice was to enable her to proceed with the hearing without any adverse effect.

Hamilton, represented by a team of lawyers headed by Mr Basil Williams and including Mr Roysdale Forde, Mr Shawn Allicock and Miss Emily Dodson, had applied for a Nisi Order of Prohibition with the hope of having the matter heard ex parte (in the absence of the other side).

But the plan backfired.

After filing the summons in the Supreme Court Registry and visiting the Chief Justice's Chambers upstairs, Senior Counsel Mr Ashton Chase, along with Mr Ralph Ramkarran, S.C. and a team of lawyers representing the Attorney General and President Jagdeo, appeared and requested that the application be heard inter partes (with all parties present).

The other lawyers in the team are Mr Doodnauth Singh, S.C., Mr Anil Nandlall, Mr Llewellyn John, Mr Khemraj Ramjattan and Mr Rafiq Khan Jnr.

Among other things, the motion by Hamilton had asked for:

* an order or rule nisi of prohibition directed to Commission Chairman Singh, from declaring Mr Jagdeo as President on the ground that any declaration would be unlawful, ultra vires, null, void in that the results of the elections cannot be lawfully ascertained in accordance with sections 97 and 98 of the Representation of the People's Act.

* An order or rule nisi of certiorari directed to the Chief Elections Officer Mr Gocool Boodoo to quash his decision to ascertain the results of Monday's elections on the grounds that there have been material and substantial breaches of the Representation of the People's Act, Chapter 1:03.

* An order or Rule Nisi of certiorari directed to Boodoo to quash his decision to ascertain the results of the elections on the grounds that there was no public declaration of the results of the elections in accordance with Section 84 of the Representation of the People's Act, Chapter, 1:03.

* An order or rule nisi of prohibition directed to the Elections Commission from declaring Mr Jagdeo President of Guyana on the ground that there has been breaches of Article 162 of the Constitution of Guyana by the commission.

* An order or rule nisi of prohibition directed to the Chancellor of the Judiciary from swearing in Mr Jagdeo as President of Guyana on the grounds that any declaration of the Presidency of the State of Guyana would be unlawful, ultra vires, null, void and of no legal effect, in excess of jurisdiction and unconstitutional.

* An order or rule nisi of prohibition directed to Singh from declaring Mr Jagdeo President of the State of Guyana on the ground that the elections results are inaccurate and false and any declaration on these would be unlawful, ultra vies, null, void and unconstitutional.

Senior Counsel Singh began his arguments by informing the court that the President had already been declared by the Chairman of the Elections Commission and tendered to the court a copy of the instrument which bore the signature of the Chairman of the Elections Commission.

Noting that the motion among other things had been seeking to prohibit the declaration of the President, he pointed out that the President was declared yesterday morning at 10 o'clock.

The declaration reads in part:

"And whereas more votes were cast in favour of the said list of the People's Progressive Party/Civic than in favour of the list of any other party contesting the aforesaid election of members of the National Assembly held pursuant to article 60 (2) of the Constitution.

"Now therefore, in accordance with the provisions of article 177 (2) of the Constitution, I do hereby declare that Bharrat Jagdeo, the Presidential candidate designated in the aforesaid list of the People's Progressive Party/Civic has been elected President of the Co-operative Republic of Guyana."

Mr Singh pointed out that the final results were declared at 4:30 yesterday morning.

The declaration was done the same time while the instrument was signed at 10 a.m., he said

He told the court that the declaration was done in the presence of every member of the Elections Commission and was approved by every member of that Commission.

He submitted to the court that the allegations of impropriety as set out in the applicant's affidavit ought to be done by way of an Election petition and not by way of prerogative writ, which is a discretionary remedy and which is not available when there is adequate alternative remedy.

Counsel, the former Chairman of the Guyana Elections Commission, 1997, cited a number of cases in support of his contention including the decision of the Chief Justice in the Aubrey Norton issue relating to the 1997 elections.

He also pointed out that despite the allegations in Hamilton's affidavit, the PNC/R member on the Elections Commission, Mr Haslyn Parris had publicly stated that the elections were transparent.

He went on to say that once a declaration has been made, the swearing-in ceremony cannot be challenged.

Ramkarran supported the remarks by counsel Singh.

He too said that Mr Jagdeo is the lawfully elected and constitutional President pursuant to the functions of Article 177 of the Constitution and of the instrument which has been submitted to the court.

Counsel told the Chief Justice that she does not have the power to grant the order sought.

"This motion before the court is really an election petition disguised as a Notice of Motion in order to get the matter before the court immediately, to persuade the court to grant an order which it has no jurisdiction to do", he argued.

He submitted that the motion be dismissed.

Mr Williams, the leading lawyer for Hamilton, asked the court to find that the results were declared at 4.30 o'clock yesterday morning at a time when citizens might have been asleep.

Reacting to the explanation that the instrument was created at 10 o'clock yesterday morning, Williams claimed the PNC/R Commissioners were not present.

According to him, the Elections Commission was supposed to have been engaged in a manual count that night when for some unexplained reason, they stopped the count at two o'clock.

He said that the declaration which should have been done with pomp and ceremony, was done unceremoniously.

Williams was demanding further clarification as to how the instrument was created, when the adjournment was taken to today.

He had proposed adjourning to Monday but the Chief Justice pointed out, "This is a matter of great national importance" and adjourned further hearing to this morning.