In a decision delivered on Wednesday July 8, the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), Guyana’s highest court, ruled that the judgment handed down by the Guyana Court of Appeal on June 22, 2020, which was used by the Chief Election Officer (CEO) to invalidate over 100,000 votes, was invalid. The Court also decided that, as a consequence, the June 23, 2020 report of the CEO was also invalid. The CCJ’s judgment was a unanimous one to which all the sitting Judges contributed.
The June 23 report of the CEO disregarded the results of a 33-day recount of the votes cast in the March 2 elections which showed the opposition People’s Progressive Party Civic (PPP/C) won by over 15,000 votes. The Chair of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) had ordered the CEO to prepare a report based on these results which should have paved the way for a declaration and swearing in of the new president.
By a 2 -1 majority, the Court of Appeal had concluded that the words in Article 177(2)(b) of the Constitution, “if more votes are cast in favour…” must be interpreted to mean “if more valid votes are cast in favour”. This was used as the basis by the CEO to discard over 100,000 votes based on allegations made by the incumbent A Partnership for National Unity + Alliance For Change (APNU+AFC) of irregularities on elections day. No clear evidence has been provided to the public to support these allegations. In fact, the APNU+AFC had initially said the elections were free and fair and claimed victory based on a tabulation of votes for the largest district in the country which the recount process has since established was not credible.
However, the CCJ in its unanimous ruling on Wednesday, said, “By the unnecessary insertion of the word “valid”, the Court of Appeal impliedly invited the CEO to engage unilaterally in a further and unlawful validation exercise that trespassed on the exclusive jurisdiction of the High Court established by Article 163.” This provides for claims of irregularities to be ventilated by way of an Election Petition to be filed after a declaration of the results has been made and a government is in place.
The CCJ noted that it has been four months since the elections were held and that the country has been without a Parliament for well over a year. No one in Guyana, the Court said, would regard this as a satisfactory state of affairs. The Court expressed the fervent hope that there would quickly be a peaceable restoration of normalcy.
The Court was presided over by the President, the Honourable Mr Justice Saunders along with the Honourable Mr Justice Wit, Mme Justice Rajnauth-Lee, Mr Justice Barrow and Mr Justice Jamadar.
GECOM has since scheduled a meeting for today – July 9 – at which time the Commission will make known its next steps.
Pressure has been mounting nationally, regionally and internationally for a conclusion to the protracted elections that reflects the will of the people. The United States has signalled in no uncertain terms that action will be taken against all those who seek to undermine Guyana’s democratic process.
The elections fiasco has begun to cast a shadow over the new oil producing country where delays in project approvals for offshore operations are already a cause for concern. Experts have said the political uncertainty could stymie investments and cost the country billions of US dollars.