At the last two hearings of the cases before the CCJ, the clear preference was expressed by the Court for a political resolution of the NCM (no confidence motion) case. The Court, like everyone else, is fully cognizant of the political implications of any consequential order, especially having regard to the disputes over the voters’ list. At the last sitting of the Court, the President, Justice Adrian Saunders, expressed exasperation that the parties did not even meet, much less have discussions on the way forward. The Court is obviously anxious that what appears to be an explosively political matter should have a political solution which would satisfy all parties, rather than orders by the Court which may satisfy no one or only one. At the time of writing the President and Leader of the Opposition have not met.
The legal challenges by APNU+AFC initially appeared to be only a play for time. It was successful because the Government has obtained several additional months of life. More time is expected but even more is being demanded. A new voters’ list by house to house registration is demanded on the basis of vastly exaggerated and unproved claims about alleged defects in the list. These claims are that the list is bloated by 200,000 names and 18-year olds are not registered. This is the same list that was used for the recent local government (LGE) elections and there were no complaints. 18-year olds were extracted from the national register which registers persons from the age of 14 for the list used for the LGE. The same will apply for the voters list for new elections. Claims and Objections (C&O) will take care of any omissions. The latest play for time is that the list will not be ready until December 25. Both the 1990 and 1997 house to house registration took approximately eighteen months. On the evidence of the past, therefore, once house to house registration starts, there will be no elections until the end of 2020, if then.
The CCJ has clearly hinted that its ruling will have to be based on what the Constitution provides. Article 106 provides for elections in three months after the NCM. This means that the effect of the CCJ’s consequential order would be elections in three months. The CCJ has no power to delay on the ground of the voters’ list. Lawyers for the Government and the Elections Commission would by now be aware of this, having regard to the views expressed by the judges in the exchanges between Bench and Bar.
Elections will therefore have to be held somewhere in the months of September-October. Therefore, unless APNU+AFC is willing to strike a compromise with the PPP, it will lose out completely in its campaign for a date beyond December 25. Having regard to the fact that there has been no evidence in all past elections since 1992 of persons on the list being impersonated by others and being illegally voted for, the APNU+AFC’s claim of a bloated list will impress no one, especially there is some urgency about the elections, having come about by a NCM, not by the effluxion of time.
Mr. Eusi Kwayana joined the chorus for a compromise. He, more than most, knows that the outcome of intransigence by our political parties plays out in the streets and innocent people are hurt. His proposal should therefore be heeded. Unfortunately, he placed the burden solely on the PPP and the reasoning for that placement is not likely to earn his proposal any sympathy. He went back 58 years, to 1961, to refer to the PPP’s alleged failure or refusal to hold the Houston by-elections. This is a PNC trope, used to accuse the PPP of being as equally guilty of election rigging. The allegation is that the PPP failed to hold the Houston by-election after the Court declared the election void because of illegality. Assuming that the PPP’s refusal was deliberate, the implied equivalence between the failure to hold one by-election for one constituency among many, and the wholesale rigging of four general election spanning twenty years, accompanied by a destruction of Guyana’s economy and intensification of ethnic fears, requires somewhat of a stretch. Adopting PNC talking points is not going to give Mr. Kwayana’s proposal, welcome as it is, any traction.
His second argument related to the PPP’s concession for an extension of the election date for two years from 1990 to 1992 in order to have a new house to house registration. Mr. Kwayana did not take into consideration the notorious corruption of voters’ lists over the decades of rigged elections. He did not also consider the length of time house to house registration has taken in the past and would take now if the APNU+AFC’s demands are accepted, notwithstanding its estimate of December 25.
Mr. Kwayana’s considerable prestige could have paid dividends if, in addition to pressurizing the PPP, he had called for APNU+AFC to terminate its demand for house to house registration and to rely on an extensive claims and objections period to prepare a credible voters’ list. The Carter Centre, in its last visit, has proposed measures to clean the voters’ list which are worth consideration.