PNC/R legal move stops swearing in of Jagdeo
Says returning officers did not comply with law

By Patrick Denny
Stabroek News
March 24, 2001

Just hours before his scheduled 3 pm swearing in, the People's National Congress REFORM (PNC/R) yesterday applied to the High Court seeking an injunction to prevent the anointing of Bharrat Jagdeo as President.

However, the way could be cleared as early as today for his swearing in as the winner of Monday's presidential elections, unless lawyers for PNC/R candidate Joseph Hamilton can overcome submissions by lawyers for the Attorney General (AG) and the President that the motion should be dismissed.

President Jagdeo's swearing in was set for 3 pm yesterday at the Umana Yana, but was postponed after an application for the prohibition order was filed. Last night, President Jagdeo told reporters at a press conference that no swearing-in ceremony would be held before the issue was determined by the court. He said that as a citizen and President he respected and would continue to respect the law as the country could not endure the trauma of 1997 again. The court move mirrored the PNC's attempt in 1997 to prevent the installation of Mrs Janet Jagan as the new President. She was, however, sworn in at a secret ceremony before the relevant court documents could be served on her.

Today, Hamilton's lawyers will have to successfully respond to submissions by Doodnauth Singh, SC, for the AG and Ralph Ramkarran, SC, for President Jagdeo that Chairman of the Elections Commission, Major General (rtd) Joe Singh had declared President Jagdeo the winner of Monday's elections and had issued an instrument to that effect. They argued that as a result, the issue could not be the subject of judicial review. The matter is being heard by Chief Justice Desiree Bernard.

Another submission by Singh and Ramkarran was that Hamilton's affidavit contained allegations which ought to be the subject of an election petition and not a constitutional motion. They both cited cases in Guyana, St Vincent and the Grenadines, India and the United Kingdom in support of their submissions as well as the Chief Justice's own ruling on the same point in the case brought by Aubrey Norton seeking to prevent Mrs Jagan being sworn in as President in 1997.

In responding to the submissions, Hamilton's lead counsel, Basil Williams, sought the assistance of the court in ascertaining the circumstances under which the instrument declaring President Jagdeo winner of Monday's presidential election was signed. He said his information was that the commissioners from the PNC/R on the Elections Commission were not present at the meeting yesterday when the instrument was signed by Maj. Gen. Singh.

He also said that, according to his instructions, the issue of the instrument was not discussed among the commissioners on Thursday before the Chief Election Officer (ag), Gocool Boodoo, announced the final results of Monday's general elections.

Pressed to respond to the legal arguments by Singh and Ramkarran, Williams sought and was granted an adjournment, though not as long as he requested, to respond.

In granting the adjournment to this morning, Chief Justice Bernard noted that the matter was one that should be dealt with dispatch and declared her intention to sit tomorrow as well if necessary. She chided Williams about the adjournment syndrome, which seems to afflict some lawyers.

Williams also sought and obtained an assurance from President Jagdeo's counsel that the swearing-in ceremony would take place only after the matter was determined. Chief Justice Bernard reminded Williams that she herself had spoken to Maj. Gen. Singh as well as counsel for the Elections Commission and did not expect that the ceremony would be held before the motion was determined. She said too that she expected counsel for the commission to be present at today's hearing and that information about the signing of the instrument declaring President Jagdeo winner of the presidential elections would be available.

Among the grounds on which Hamilton is seeking to block the swearing-in are that the returning officers of the ten geographical constituencies omitted to declare the results for their constituencies and that they did not compile those returns in accordance with Section 84 of the Representation of the People Act.

Hamilton also claimed that the results of the election were inaccurate as a document prepared by the commission showed the PNC/R as receiving less votes than the results recorded on the statements of poll for three polling places in Region Four - 413511D, 413521B(1) and 413431A(1).

He claimed too that the commission used tally sheets instead of statements of poll to determine the votes cast for the various parties and that this was a breach of the Representation of the People Act.