Credible elections in the shortest time possible
The current political situation in our nation which resulted from the no-confidence vote against the Government on 21st December 2018 in the National Assembly should not be a cause for alarm and anxiety.
The Constitution of the Cooperative Republic of Guyana is sacrosanct and supreme; the independence of the Judiciary and the Elections Commission is respected and the National Assembly is functional.
I am confident that, if these institutions are allowed to function without interference, the nation could expect a good outcome to the present situation. I wish to assure everyone that the Government will continue to respect the Constitution, abide by the law and ensure the orderly functioning of the agencies of public administration and the efficient conduct of credible elections. Guyanese, the no-confidence vote activated four concurrent processes, all of which have a bearing on the present political situation.
First, the authority of the legislative branch is unimpaired. The National Assembly remains in session. This is essential because, under the Constitution [at Article 106 (7)], the Assembly could be summoned to expand the time for conducting General and Regional Elections beyond the period of 9o days from the time of the no-confidence vote on 21st December 2018.
The Chief Justice, in the case of Attorney General v. the Speaker of the National Assembly and the Leader of the Opposition declared:
… Parliament is not dissolved as a result of the no-confidence motion. Instead, it is the holding of elections which will be responsible for the dissolution of such a Parliament.
The National Assembly, therefore, is still vested with the authority to provide the Elections Commission with the time and resources necessary for the conduct of credible General and Regional Elections.
– Second, the independence of the judicial branch has been respected: The Government’s legal right to appeal to the judicial branch to interpret certain issues relating to the no-confidence vote is enshrined in the Constitution.
The legal challenges, in so far as the Government is concerned, were neither frivolous nor calculated to frustrate the implications of the no-confidence vote.
The Speaker of the National Assembly was asked to review his decision in light of the legal issues which arose as to the validity of the vote. He declined to reverse his decision. He recommended, in his ‘Statement’:
Full, final and complete settlement of these issues by a Court of competent jurisdiction will place beyond doubt any question which may exist and serve to give guidance to the Speaker and to the National Assembly for the future.
The Government’s legal actions, therefore, can be viewed as a means of bringing clarity and certainty to the contentious issues which arose as a consequence of the no-confidence vote.
The Chief Justice, in her rulings on these actions, issued certain declarations. The Government, while challenging aspects of her rulings, continues to comply with them. The Government is conducting its affairs in accordance with the Constitution and with respect for the rule of law. The legal challenges have been taken to the appellate stage and a decision is expected from the Court of Appeal.
Third, the competence of the executive branch is essential to the viability of the state. The President and Ministers remain in office as provided for by the Constitution [at Article 106(7)] which states:
Notwithstanding its defeat, the Government shall remain in office and shall hold an election within three months, or such longer period as the National Assembly shall by resolution supported by not less than two-thirds of the votes of all the elected members of the National Assembly determine, and shall resign after the President takes the oath of office following the election.
The Constitution contemplates continuity of the Government. There is no legal impediment that restrains the Government from exercising its functions or requires it to assume only ‘caretaker’ functions.
The Government continues to protect the country’s borders, natural resources, sovereignty and territorial integrity and to fulfill its international obligations. Citizens will continue to be provided with public services at the central, regional and local levels to ensure their welfare. Life goes on.
Fourth, the electoral process must be credible. I have written to and met the Commissioners of the Elections Commission to urge their readiness to conduct credible elections at the earliest time possible. I am constrained from naming a date for elections without the advice and assurances that the Commission would be competent to conduct credible elections.
Free and fair elections are essential to representative democracy. The credibility of elections, in turn, is dependent in part on the integrity of the Official List of Electors. A contaminated list can vitiate the credibility of elections.
The Government side, during its engagement with the Elections Commission, gained the impression that, considering the small size of the national population, the existing list of electors was ‘inflated’ and needed to be sanitised. It is Commission’s responsibility to determine how efficiently and how quickly this could be achieved.
The independence of the Elections Commission is safeguarded by the Constitution. It is insulated from political influence, instruction and interference. The Constitution [at Article 62] charges the Commission with the conduct of elections. It states:
Elections shall be independently supervised by the Election Commission in accordance with the provisions of Article 162.
The Constitution [at Article 162 (1) (a)] mandates that the Commission:
…shall exercise general direction and supervision over the registration of electors and the administrative conduct of all elections of members of the National Assembly…
The Commission must be allowed to function independently. I cannot influence, interfere with or instruct the Commission in its work. I am guided by its advice as to its readiness to conduct elections before I make a proclamation on the date of those elections.
The Commission’s Chairman, in this regard, wrote to me on 21st February 2019 indicating that the Commission did not have the capability to deliver credible General and Regional Elections within the three-month timeframe commencing 21st December 2018. He advised, also, that the Commission would need an appropriation, approved by the National Assembly, in order to conduct General and Regional Elections.
I replied to the Chairman’s letter on 25th February, “…committing to doing everything possible to ensure that the Commission is provided with the financial resources and has sufficient time to conduct credible elections.”
I promised “…to seek the approval of the National Assembly to ensure that an agreement can be reached given both the constitutional requirement and GECOM’s capability.” I also urged the Commission to commence preparations for the conduct of general and regional elections.
I consulted with the full membership of the Elections Commission on 8th March 2019 to determine its needs and its readiness to conduct credible elections in the shortest time possible.
It would be reckless of me to announce a date for elections without being satisfied that the Commission would be in a position to guarantee credible elections. I did not receive, at that meeting, the guidance that would have allowed me to proclaim a date for elections. I would be unable to do so until the Commission advises me accordingly.
Guyanese, these four concurrent processes – legislative, judicial, executive and electoral – enshrined in the Constitution, are essential to the lawful resolution of the challenges of the present political situation facing the nation.
Public trust in the Elections Commission and confidence in its capability to deliver credible and timely elections will be enhanced by greater consensus within the Commission itself. Attempts at frustrating the Commission’s decision-making through walk-outs of meetings by Opposition-nominated Commissioners have been disruptive, dilatory and counterproductive to the agreement of a ‘work plan’ that could assure the nation of the Commission’s ability to hold credible elections within the shortest time possible.
I expect that, with the advice of the Commission and with the support of the Opposition in the National Assembly, I shall be able to proclaim a date as early as possible for the conduct of General and Regional Elections.
I have written to the Chairman of the Commission, again, demanding the presentation of the ‘work plan’ to me and re-committing the Government to doing everything possible to support the conduct of credible elections ‘…in the shortest time possible.’
The Government of Guyana is committed to support the rule of law and respect for civil rights. The Government will remain committed, also, to ensuring respect for the Constitution and the independence of the institutions of the State.
I have written to and met the Leader of the Opposition on matters relating to the political situation. I met the Leader of the Opposition first on 9th January 2019. It was agreed at that meeting that:
the Government would work with the Opposition towards the expeditious conclusion of matters engaging the attention of the court and relating to the no-confidence vote; and
the representatives of the two sides would meet the Elections Commission to enquire about its readiness to hold elections.
I invited the Leader of the Opposition, on a second occasion, to meet me on 6th March 2019 to discuss:
the National Assembly’s constitutional role in the present situation; and
the Elections Commission’s readiness and requirements for funding to enable it to conduct General and Regional Elections.
The Leader of the Opposition requested that the agenda be broadened to include setting an election date and to discuss other matters relating to the Government’s role in the approach to elections. The meeting did not go beyond the first agenda item after the Leader of the Opposition insisted on the setting of a date for elections which I was in no position to proclaim at that time.
The resolution of the present political challenges requires collaboration. I am prepared to do my part to ensure credible elections within “…the shortest time possible” this year. The decisions which have to be made and the actions which need to be taken, however, are not mine alone.
I rely on the Commission’s readiness, the provision of funds and the expansion of time to conduct credible elections by the National Assembly. I rely on the outcome of legal challenges by the Court of Appeal. I rely, also, on public confidence in the institutions responsible for executing these processes. They demand political cooperation, not confrontation.
Guyanese, it is my desire that credible elections be held in the shortest possible time. I shall continue to ensure that Government’s actions are consistent and are in compliance with the Constitution and assure citizens of a credible electoral process.
I urge everyone not to be intimidated by incendiary insinuations aimed at instigating disaffection which could affect preparations for elections. I assure everyone that the Government will spare no effort to protect your fundamental rights and freedoms.
Guyanese, I am confident that the path we have chosen is the best for the nation. I thank you. Ω.