Both the President and Prime Minister accepted the outcome of the confidence vote. The President said that the Government will abide by it and “facilitate the smooth functioning of the general and regional elections…”. The Government has now changed his mind, will question the Speaker’s ruling, has reneged on his commitment that “the relevant constitutional provisions will kick in” and has grabbed a flimsy lifeline thrown to the Government by Mr. Nigel Hughes. Ridiculously puerile excuses by the Prime Minister, reflecting a desperate attempt of the Government to stay unlawfully in office in violation of all norms of democratic, constitutional and lawful conduct, were relied on.
The Speaker will now be asked to act as a policeman and investigate whether Mr. Charrandass Persaud was bribed, and also whether the majority should have been 34 and not 33, having repeatedly ruled since 2015, and having been accepted by the Government since 2011, that a majority is 33. These are ominous developments, which will bring ridicule to Guyana and to the APNU+AFC Government, derail the democratic process and have grave implications for Guyana’s future and for Parliamentary democracy.
The no confidence amendment is created by Article 106(6) and (7) of the Constitution. Article 106(6) provides that the “Cabinet including the President shall resign if the Government is defeated by the vote of the majority of all elected members of the National Assembly on a vote of confidence.” Article 106(7) provides that “Notwithstanding its defeat, the Government shall remain in office and shall hold an election within three months….and shall resign after the President takes the oath of office following the election.”
Article 106(6) automatically triggers the resignation of the Cabinet, which is defined by the Constitution as comprising the President, Prime Minister, Vice Presidents and Ministers, upon the passage of a no confidence vote. The resignation is stayed only to manage elections. By not resigning the President and Cabinet are violating the Constitution. The President’s characterization is that this is “a constitutional process which can have favourable outcomes for the nation.” The “favourable outcomes” can only be realized if the “constitutional process” is respected and the President and Cabinet resign.
Prior to 2000-2002, when the constitutional reforms were implemented, the resignation of a government on a confidence vote was a convention. The Constitution Reform Commission (CRC) noted the uncertainty as to whether the President would have to resign. For this reason, it recommended as follows: “The following shall be included in Article 106: ‘The Cabinet shall be collectively responsible to Parliament for the control of the Government of Guyana. It shall be provided that the Cabinet, including the President, who is part and parcel of the Cabinet as provided for in Article 106, must resign if the Government is defeated by a majority of all the members of the National Assembly on a vote of confidence.’” The PPP members of the Commission abstained. It’s a matter of the greatest irony that it is the PPP, which declined to formally support the recommendation in the Commission, that has now relied on and benefited from it.
Two things are certain, however. Firstly, the Speaker cannot recall, reverse or vitiate his ruling that the motion was carried, without violating the Standing Orders, and making a mockery of Parliament. Secondly, fanciful theories of mathematical precision are nowhere recognized as a basis for statutory interpretation. What the National Assembly intended and/or contemplated by the use of the word “majority” in Article 106(6), based on the legal principles relating to statutory interpretation, are the determining factors.
Since 2011 the National Assembly has recognized the 33-32 vote as a valid majority. This accords with the literal interpretation of “majority,” defined by the Oxford dictionary as “the greater number.” “Majority rule” means “that the greater number shall exercise greater power.” The “Table for determining majority and two-thirds votes” by Michigan State University (https://msu.edu/~spha/documents/determinevote.pdf) lists the majority of 65 as 33. 49 pairs of numbers (98 in total) out of the 1 to 100 that are listed, have the same number as a majority. Only the numbers 1 and 100 are not paired with any others. Thus 33 as a majority for two numbers, 64 and 65, is the rule rather than the exception. On all rational considerations, it is clear that the National Assembly, when it voted in favour of Article 106(6), intended that the word “majority” should mean 33 of the 65 members of the National Assembly, and that the latter did not have in its contemplation that because there cannot be half a member, the majority should be 34.
If the Speaker were to overthrow Parliamentary governance by an ex post facto ruling that a majority of 65 is 34, the revisiting of legislation rejected from 2011 to 2015 and passed between 2015 and the present on the 33-32 majority would rent our Constitution asunder and drown Guyana in chaos, confusion and crisis.
I wonder if the Government, in its reckless drive to destroy Guyana’s democracy, considers what would happen if it succeeds. It can never pass any legislation with 33 votes. It cannot retrospectively legalise what occurred since 2015 with 33 votes. Is it really worth it? For one more year in office?