Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo today (June 27, 2017) warned of a “constitutional crisis” if the 2020 elections are delayed as a result of the absence of a Chairman of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM).
He made the remark during a press conference just one day after his third round of consultations with members of civil society on the submission of another list of candidates to the President David Granger for consideration for the post of the GECOM Chair – which has been vacant since the retirement of Dr Steve Surujbally in November 2016.
“If he (Granger) thinks that he will delay the appointment of the Chairman of GECOM just to get additional years in government, well he is wrong because the moment that the constitutional period expires, we are going to have a constitutional crisis,” Jagdeo warned.
According to him, if such a situation arises, Guyanese will be entering unchartered waters.
“We will be in new territory. There will be no budget, any agreement that the government signs will be illegal but I hope we don’t get to that,” the Opposition Leader stated.
The former President explained that in order for an administration to continue in office after the expiration of its term, there needs to be agreement among all players of the National Assembly.
“Once the date expires, there is no longer a National Assembly anymore and so to reconvene that, you can only do so with support from both sides,” he stated.
And Jagdeo made it clear that “you are not going to find a compliant PPP agreeing to an extension” of Granger’s term.
Jagdeo said civil society organisations are growing frustrated with searching for suitable nominees as the process has now become “tedious” given the President’s “unreasonable” stance on the matter.
“Many feel it is a waste of time to continue the charade of sending names to him when he would capriciously and flippantly dismiss the names,” the Opposition Leader told reporters.
He also pointed to several challenges civil society will now face in compiling a third list including their uncertainty of exactly what Granger wants and the hesitance of suitable candidates to accept nomination for fear of being publically disregarded by the President.
Jagdeo noted that the third list will be created following receipt of suggestions from civil society, internal discussions and consultations with shortlisted individuals.
The Opposition Leader noted with concern that the President has refused to explain his rationale behind rejecting the lists, other than declaring that it is “not acceptable”.
According to Jagdeo, the President needs to specify which individuals on the list are not suitable.
He also noted that it is an unreasonable request to have all of the six names suitable to Granger’s liking.
“If you have five persons won the list who are perfect according to his criteria but one person is not, then he will not even start considering the names until he has a perfect list of six persons and then he will not say which ones aren’t perfect. So I will have to now guess the next five around,” Jagdeo explained.
In fact, he also emphasised that Granger’s requirements are not even necessary as they fly in the face of the Constitution and history.
Article 161 (2) of the Constitution, which governs the appointment of a GECOM Chairman, states, “… the Chairman of the Elections Commission shall be a person who holds or who has held office as a judge of a court having unlimited jurisdiction in civil and criminal matters in some part of the Commonwealth or a court having jurisdiction in appeals from any such court or who is qualified to be appointed as any such judge, or any other fit and proper person…”
Jagdeo noted too that the President declined to say which individuals he deems as suitable, insisting that the Opposition Leader should know.
“He said no but the Leader of the Opposition knows who they are. How would I know who they are? I don’t have a crystal ball, I’ve never studied divination, I don’t have these amazing powers that he thinks that I have to guess what’s in his mind. So I don’t know who they are,” Jagdeo stated.
According to Jagdeo, “I must guess if it is one of five that are okay? I could call the numbers and have him whistle and call the names and have him whistle too if I am correct. Maybe that is the way I’d approach it in the future.”
High level team
Further, Jagdeo lamented that no progress has been made to establish the negotiating team consisting of members of government and opposition in the event the third list if rejected.
The two leaders at their Monday, June 12, 2017, meeting, have agreed to put together a high-level team representing both sides to work immediately on exploring modalities to bring a resolution to this matter.
The first list the President rejected included: Major General (retired) Norman Mc Lean, Attorney and Political Analyst, Mr. Christopher Ram, Former Chairman of the Private Sector Commission (PSC), Mr. Ramesh Dookhoo, Peace and Governance Consultant, Mr. Lawrence Lachmansingh, Businesswoman, Ms. Rhyaan Shah and Professor Dr. James Rose.
The second rejected list included: Justice of Appeal B.S. Roy (Retd); Justice William Ramlal (retd); Ms. Oneidge Walrond-Allicock, Attorney-at-law and a former Magistrate; Mr Kashir Khan, Attorney-at-law; Ms Nadia Sagar, Attorney-at-law and Mr. Gerald Gouveia, businessman.
In a statement to the media, the President explained that every member on the list to be to be deemed acceptable in his opinion.