World cannot show indifference to Guyana situation
- Ambassador urges OAS, others to condemn violence

Guyana Chronicle
March 29, 2001

GUYANA's Ambassador to the United States and Permanent Representative to the Organisation of American States (OAS), Dr Odeen Ishmael, yesterday said the international community cannot be indifferent to the situation here.

In a second address within days to the OAS at its Washington headquarters, he urged the OAS, its member states and the international community to support the democratic process in Guyana.

Noting the unrest on the East Coast Demerara and in parts of the city after the PPP/C won the March 19 elections, he said the international community as a whole should also "encourage all political parties to establish lines of cooperation which can surely assist in the growth of a healthy democratic culture in the country."

"At the same time this organisation and the international community must roundly condemn any act of intimidation or terrorism or violence that undermines the process of democracy in the country. None can afford to show indifference to our situation."

Ishmael on Monday briefed the organisation on the current situation here at the special meeting of the OAS Permanent Council to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the OAS resolution on representative democracy.

He had warned that there are forces which cannot and would not accept the democratic process, and are using "non-legal measures to hold the elected government to ransom" and repeated this and other points at a meeting of the Permanent Council yesterday. Here is the text of the Ambassador's address yesterday:

"Mr Chairman, I ask for the floor to update the Permanent Council on the current political situation in Guyana.

On Monday March 19, the people of Guyana went to the polls to vote in the third democratic presidential and parliamentary elections since our independence in 1966.

For emphasis, the March 19 elections were the third to be held since October 1992.

However, as occurred in the two previous elections of 1992, 1997, the country faces serious problems because there continue to exist political forces which cannot and would not accept the results of the democratic process, and are currently using non-legal measures to hold the elected government and the majority of the people to ransom.

For information purposes, I wish to state that the President Bharrat Jagdeo, with his party, the People's Progressive Party-Civic (PPP/C), was re-elected with 53 per cent of the total votes.

The main opposition party, the People's National Congress-Reform (PNC/R) and its candidate, Mr. Desmond Hoyte, obtained 42 per cent of the votes. Nine other small parties garnered the remaining 5 per cent. Roughly 90 per cent of the electorate exercised the franchise on March 19.

As will be recalled, following the December 1997 elections, the main opposition party - which ruled the country from 1966 to 1992 -- refused to accept the results and challenged them in the courts. But after the Chief Justice ruled against that party, it mounted a series of street demonstrations, some of which became violent.

Through the brokering of an agreement negotiated by CARICOM (Caribbean Community), the Government decided to reduce its five-year term by two years.

The current elections, as those of 1992 and 1997, were conducted by an independent Elections Commission.

It was also witnessed by a number of international bodies, including the OAS, the Carter Center, CARICOM, the Commonwealth, the European Union.

All of these named bodies have already issued statements that the elections were free and fair and that they reflected the will of the Guyanese people.

As a matter of interest, it must be noted that our Elections Commission is made up of a Chairman and six members. Three of them are representatives of the Government and the other three are representatives of the Opposition.

The Chairman is nominated by the Leader of the Opposition.

In the management of the March 19 elections, all decisions were arrived at unanimously by all the members of the Commission.

But despite their declaration of the results of the elections, the main opposition party, the PNC/R, almost like a repeat of 1997, filed a motion in the courts to prevent the swearing in of the President a few hours before the ceremony on Friday last.

This is currently being heard before the Chief Justice of Guyana.

Unfortunately, the hearings have been interrupted by loud noise from supporters of the main opposition party who gathered outside the premises of the court.

These demonstrations are seen as an attempt to intimidate the work of the court. The Police have been forced to quell unruly demonstrations by this crowd by using tear gas and the firing of pellets, particularly after sections of it went on a rampage in the nearby streets and beat and robbed people two days ago.

The delay of the swearing-in of the President has caused an air of tension to pervade many parts of the country, especially the capital Georgetown.

Such tension generates a fertile breeding ground for rumours which inject fear in the minds of the ordinary people.

The spreading of hostile rumours is an effective and destructive form of "psychological terrorism".

The delay also gives more opportunity to those bent on destabilising the Government to carry out their terror tactics in various areas of the country.

Last Friday, some persons apparently dissatisfied over the results of the elections, blocked roads and vandalised public property but the police managed to restore order.

Two days ago, a bridge on the main highway linking the capital Georgetown with the eastern part of the country was deliberately destroyed by fire.

On Saturday March 24, an opposition member on the Elections Commission, Mr. Haslyn Parris, who publicly declared that the results of the elections were accurate and could stand all scrutiny, was badly beaten up by his own party supporters at his party headquarters in Georgetown.

Such action gives the impression that some forces in the opposition are not willing to accept the democratic decision of the people. The main Opposition party has since made a statement condemning the physical attack on the Election Commissioner.

We can only hope that good sense will prevail and that all political parties will display sensible leadership and responsibility so that a situation of peace and tranquility can be quickly restored.

The main Opposition party, the PNC-Reform, must represent its supporters by acting in a responsible manner and providing checks and balances to the Government through the parliamentary process.

It must also participate in positive ways to work with the Government in developing programmes which will be beneficial to its constituents.

President Jagdeo has already stated that he intends to have an inclusive new administration and is willing to work out modalities for the participation of the Opposition parties in the Government.

It is hoped that the Opposition, particularly the main opposition party, will halt its attitude of confrontation and reach out to clasp the hand of friendship and inclusiveness offered by the President.

I now take this opportunity, on behalf of my Government, to urge the OAS, all its member states, and the international community as a whole, to support the democratic process in Guyana and to encourage all political parties to establish lines of cooperation which can surely assist in the growth of a healthy democratic culture in the country.

At the same time this Organisation and the international community must roundly condemn any act of intimidation or terrorism or violence that undermines the process of democracy in the country.

None can afford to show indifference to our situation.

My country is a relatively new democracy and its freely-elected Government needs the solidarity of its fellow member-states of this hemisphere.

Such solidarity will surely help to inspire confidence among the Guyanese people and will give them courage to continue to promote, build and defend democracy in our country."

Hearing of writ to block swearing-in of President ends
Chief Justice reserves decision

by George Barclay

CHIEF Justice Desiree Bernard yesterday reserved decision after completing hearing in the PNC/R application through a Prerogative Writ to bar President Bharrat Jagdeo from taking the oath of office following his PPP/C's victory at the March 19 elections.

Earlier in the trial she had said that it would take her at least a day to go through her notes and the vast number of legal authorities before ruling.

But yesterday she announced, "It would take me a few days. I will notify the lawyers involved about the day when I will deliver my decision."

The Chief Justice, who began hearing the case last week Friday, thanked the lawyers on both sides for their excellent contributions and presentations that involved a lot of research and promised to notify them of the date she would hand down her judgment.

Mr Joseph Hamilton of the People's National Congress Reform (PNC/R), had sought an order prohibiting Chairman of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) Major General Joe Singh, from declaring Mr Jagdeo as President.

He claimed any declaration would be unlawful, null and 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 Act.

Hamilton also sought an order directing the Chief Elections Officer, Mr Gocool Boodoo to quash his decision to ascertain the results of the elections claiming there had been material and substantial breaches of the Representation of the People Act, Chapter 1:03.

In addition, he wanted an order directed to the Chancellor of the Judiciary from swearing in Mr Jagdeo as President on the ground that any declaration of the Presidency would also be unlawful and of no legal effect.

GECOM announced the results of the elections early last Friday morning and in an affidavit, the commission has told the Chief Justice that the vote count complied with the law.

In his affidavit in support, Hamilton contended that the Returning Officers did not publicly declare the votes recorded in the respective district with respect to each list of candidates in accordance with Section 84 of the Representation of the People Act, Chapter 1:03.

He also raised several other points.

On the resumption of the hearing yesterday, Mr Ashton Chase, S.C., for GECOM submitted that the affidavits by the applicant contained hearsay and cannot be seriously considered.

Although counsel for Hamilton had been saying that the motion was not challenging the elections or does not seek to vitiate the elections, the demands in the motion show that that was exactly what he was seeking to do, he said.

Chase pointed out that there was no fundamental rights application before the court and declared that none of the cases cited by the applicant was constitutional.

Senior Counsel submitted that there was no accepted and reliable evidence on which the order sought could be granted.

Mr Basil Williams, for Hamilton, submitted that if the court finds that there was non-compliance, it must act as guardian of the Constitution.

According to him, "The integrity of the system must be preserved and we must have transparency and integrity."

Reacting to the applicant's claim that the court had the authority under the Act to grant the relief sought, Chase said, "We in Guyana will be making precedent if we use a prerogative order for stultifying the law for an election purpose."

Mr Roysdale Forde, also for Hamilton, was critical of the statement of Chase who had claimed that the applicant's affidavit was built on hearsay, and he identified paragraphs in which the applicant had spoken of things of his own knowledge.

Chase was referring to the GECOM Instrument declaring Mr Jagdeo as President and said that no fraud had been alleged in relation to the presentation of the document.

According to him, the court in these proceedings cannot reject the document and pointed out that the Instrument must be accepted as presented.

He said that those things sought to have been done must be deemed to have been done.

He supported the contention of Mr Doodnauth Singh, S.C. that there was no provision in the Constitution for a direct challenge to the election of a President except on a limit that is set out in Article 177 of the Constitution and which places jurisdiction of such challenge on the Court of Appeal and not the High Court.

Lawyers for Hamilton urged the Chief Justice to grant the remedies sought while those for the respondents contended that the applicant's remedy was by way of an election petition and not a prerogative writ.

As such, they asked that the motion be dismissed.

Lawyers representing the applicant Hamilton were Williams, Forde, Mr Shawn Allicock and Miss Emily Dodson.

The Chief Justice had special praise for Forde who she said was very impressive in his presentation of the law and facts.

Representing the Elections Commission were Chase, associated with Mr. Bryn Pollard, S.C.

Mr Doodnauth Singh appeared for the Attorney General while Mr Ralph Ramkarran, S.C. Mr Khemraj Ramjattan, Mr Anil Nandlall and Mr Llewellyn John represented President Jagdeo.

Crowds of PNC/R supporters had gathered near the courts during the hearings and police on several occasions fired tear gas and pellets to disperse bands that rampaged through some city streets.