Judge declares Guyana election null and void

Jamaica Observer
January 16, 2001

GEORGETOWN, Guyana (Cana) -- Guyana's controversial December 1997 general election, which gave victory to the People's Progressive Party/Civic, has been declared null and void.

Justice Claudette Singh made the ruling yesterday, dealing with an election petition filed by private citizen, Esther Perreira, on behalf of the main opposition People's National Congress (PNC).

The judge found that an act of Parliament in 1997 which made a specially produced voter identification card the only means by which a qualified elector could vote was unconstitutional. The court said this interfered with the fundamental right of a citizen to vote as enshrined in the Guyana Constitution.

But the ruling raised more questions, including its implications, while lawyers for both sides claimed victory.

"The question may be asked as to whether the government is illegal. The answer is that the judge did not rule and was not required to rule on the legality or illegality of the government. The judge was required to rule on the elections," the ruling PPP/Civic, led by President Bharat Jagdeo, said in a statement last night.

"We wish to make it abundantly clear that the government is not illegal and has never been illegal and no court has so ruled. The government is and has been lawfully in place at all times and will remain in place until the March 19 elections," the party said.

It argued that Justice Claudette Singh's ruling that the elections are vitiated was based "on a technical, legal matter and is not based on any alleged irregularity in the conduct of the elections which the judge found was not sufficient to affect the results of the elections".

The PPP/Civic will, however, be appealing the ruling.

In the meanwhile, PNC leader, Desmond Hoyte, claimed that there is a constitutional crisis, but said he is committed to the scheduled March 19 general elections.

Lawyers for the petitioner had asked the court to find that the electoral process was so flawed that the results could not accurately reflect the will of the people.

Justice Singh, however, said she was unable to make a positive finding as to whether the irregularities in evidence would have affected the election results.

The rendering of the decision by the judge took about four hours yesterday and PNC leader, Desmond Hoyte and Alliance For Guyana (AFG) leader Dr Rupert Roopnarine, were among those present.

The judge went over evidence of a host of irregularities including forged and reconstruced statements of poll, irregular movement of ballot boxes and undistributed voter identification cards.

Lawyers for both sides will be back in court today to settle with the judge the issue of costs requested by the petitioner and to decide what consequential orders should be made in light of the ruling.

Justice Singh stated that the purpose of the petition was not to put any party in office and she noted fresh elections are already scheduled for March 19.

Senior counsel Ralph Ramkarran, who represented the respondent, former President Janet Jagan, said the fact that the court did not say that the irregularities were of such magnitude to affect the election results showed the petitioner's case did not succeed.

"The elections have been set aside (but) the judge has not ruled that the government is illegal. She has ruled that the elections were not held in accordance with law [and] have been set aside," Ramkarran said.

But lead counsel for the petitioner, senior counsel Rex McKay, disagreed with the other lawyer's reasoning.

"Factually, the petitioner won and legally and constitutionally the petitioner won, because all the factual issues were determined in favour of the petitioner. It is only the absence of a declaration in respect to the findings of fact that the judge could come down one side or the other and say it affected the election results," McKay said.

Small pockets of PNC supporters in the vicinity of the court hugged each other and cheered PNC leader Hoyte.

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