PNC/R challenge to swearing in of President
Noise from protesters forces court to adjourn
GECOM Chairman says vote count complied with law

by George Barclay
Guyana Chronicle
March 27, 2001

NOISE from PNC/R protesters outside the court building forced an early adjournment yesterday afternoon of the party's challenge to the swearing-in of President Bharrat Jagdeo following the PPP/C victory in last week Monday's national elections.

And in an affidavit tendered at the hearing before Chief Justice Desiree Bernard, Chairman of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) Major General Joe Singh says the 2001 general elections and counting of votes were done in compliance with the Representation of the People Act.

He denied 23 allegations of irregularities set out in the Prerogative Writ brought by People's National Congress Reform (PNC/R) member Joseph Hamilton.

Despite the assurance by the retired Major General, lawyers Mr Basil Williams and Mr Roysdale Forde of the PNC/R legal line-up, are continuing to agitate for the counting of votes by hand before the President is formally sworn in.

But lawyers for the President argued that the PNC/R was engaged in trivialities and had brought an election petition in disguise.

The PNC/R lawyers are contending among other things that there was no public declaration of the results in accordance with Section 84 of the Representation of the People Act.

They are also saying that the Returning Officers appointed by GECOM did not publicly declare the votes recorded in the respective districts with respect to each list of candidates.

In addition, they claim the Returning Officers of the electoral districts did not ascertain the total votes cast in favour of each list in accordance with the Statements of Poll in the presence of the PNC/R candidates and counting agents in accordance with Section 84 of the Representation of the People Act, Chapter 1:03.

The PNC/R moved to the court Friday and after an adjournment to Saturday, the hearing resumed yesterday with Mr Ashton Chase, S.C., for GECOM tendering the affidavit by GECOM Chairman Singh.

The affidavit reads in part: "The Commission denies the allegations set out in the affidavit in support as fully as if the same were herein set out verbally and traversed seriatim."

It adds: "That General and Regional Elections were held throughout Guyana on 19 March, 2001 and for the purpose of ascertaining the results of these elections, the Elections Commission at a meeting convened at the Office of the Elections Commission at 4 a.m. on March 23, 2001 and attended by all members of the Commission and over which I presided, the results of the said elections on the basis of a report by the Chief Election Officer (acting) pursuant to Section 96 of the Representation of the People Act, Chapter 1;03.

"That the aforesaid report of the Chief Election Officer (ag) was unanimously adopted by the Commission at the aforesaid meeting and immediately thereafter the Chief Elections Officer at a press conference convened at the Media Centre established by the Commission at the Hotel Tower, Main Street, Georgetown, for the purpose of providing information relating to the elections publicly declared the aforesaid results of the elections as required by Section 99 (a) of the Representation of the People Act, Cap. 103 in the presence of all members of the Commission, representatives of the media and other members of the public giving notification of the number of valid votes cast for each list of candidates.

"That in my capacity as Chairman of the Elections Commission and on behalf of the Commission, I signed in the presence of all members of the Commission, a notice pursuant to Article 177 (2) of the Constitution during the course of the morning on Friday, March 23, 2001 for intended subsequent publication in an extraordinary issue of the Official Gazette on that day giving public notification of the results of the elections including, in particular, notification of the list of candidates for which the most votes were validly cast and declaring the presidential candidate on that list as the person elected to be the President of Guyana.

"That arrangements were then commenced for the President so declared by me in pursuance of Article 177 (2) of the Constitution to take and subscribe the oath of office in compliance with Article 97 of the Constitution.

"That during the morning of Friday March 23, 2001, after signing the Notice referred to in paragraph 7, on receiving notification from the Hon. Chief Justice of the institution of proceedings seeking an order of the High Court to prohibit the declaration of the election of the President and his taking and subscribing the oath of office, I gave instructions that publication of the notification of the election of the President in the Official Gazette should be stayed until the determination of the aforesaid proceedings."

In support of his contention, Williams yesterday cited what he called three examples to show that the results on the Statements of Poll from the polling places differed to that declared by GECOM.

From one polling place, in a particular case the PNC/R got 228 votes against 63 by the PPP/C, whereas the results coming out of GECOM showed the PNC/R as polling 223 and the PPP/C 63, he submitted.

He also claimed that in another case, the PNC/R got 97 from the polling place as against 63 by the PPP/C but GECOM's results showed in a PNC/R stronghold, the PNC/R getting one vote while the PPP/C polled 63.

Forde argued that the figure clearly showed that Section 84 had not been complied with.

During the arguments by Forde, Mr Doodnauth Singh, S.C., who is representing the Attorney General, accused Forde of delving into matters that are not relevant to the matter before the court, which is a prerogative application and a preliminary objection from the other side.

Mr Ashton Chase, S.C., who is representing the Elections Commission, interrupted to point out that what was going on was not germane to the matter before the court.

A prerogative writ, he said, was a perfect remedy in those circumstances where there has been a breach of natural justice.

At this stage, Singh pointed out that much talk was being made about the failure to publish the declaration while it is well-known that the GECOM Chairman had delayed the publishing of the declaration in the Official Gazette to give the court an opportunity to hear and determine the matter before it.

While agreeing with the observations by Singh and Chase, the Chief Justice pointed out that because of the situation in the country, she has to be indulgent, tolerant and exercise patience.

During an exchange, Williams accused Doodnauth Singh of holding a secret ceremony to swear in the then President in the 1997 elections.

Singh brought laughter in the court room when he shouted, "It was not secret, it was a private swearing in."

Mr Khemraj Ramjattan for the President, accused the other side of indulging in trivialities.

But the Chief Justice pointed out that there must be no short cut in the matter.

According to her one must do everything to let people know that they are getting a fair hearing.

Mr Ralph Ramkarran, who is also associated with Mr Llewellyn John and Ramjattan for the President, submitted that the court had no jurisdiction to hear the matter which was an election petition in disguise.

He said that what was before the court was a prerogative writ, and pointed out that there was an alternative remedy available to the applicant, which was an election petition.

They should make use of that, he said.

Noise from the crowd of protesters outside the court building resulted in an early adjournment.