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Appointment of GECOM Chair is invalid – Ramkarran

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Former Speaker of the National Assembly and political commentator, Ralph Ramkarran has noted that President David Granger’s unilateral appointment of 84-year-old retired Judge, Justice James Patterson as Chairman of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) is “void.”

In his weekly column published in the Stabroek News on Sunday, October 22, 2017, Ramkarran made it clear that President can only make such a unilateral decision if Opposition Leader, Bharrat Jagdeo fails to submit a list of nominees.

Jagdeo had provided three lists to the President, each containing 6 nominees for the post; however, the President rejected all three lists on the grounds that the nominees were not “fit and proper.”

President David Granger presents the Instrument of Appointment as Chairman of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) to Justice Patterson at State House

But according to Ramkarran, the Constitution provides that “if the Leader of the Opposition fails to submit a list as provided for,” only then can the President proceed unilaterally to make an appointment of a judge, former judge or person qualified to be a judge.

“My understanding is that the Leader of the Opposition has submitted a list. The list was amended twice by the substitution of names. If so, the Leader of the Opposition has not failed to submit a list and the President’s appointment is therefore void. But I’m jumping the gun. The talented lawyers associated with the opposition will no doubt examine the matter in more detail,” the former House Speaker opined.

Granger’s decision to appoint an octogenarian to the post has received widespread criticism from civil society, the private sector, the legal fraternity, political commentators and the main opposition party – the People’s Progressive Party Civic (PPP/C). The PPP/C plans to legally challenge the appointment and has since adopted a stance of non-cooperation with the government.

Meanwhile, Ramkarran in his column noted that of the last six names submitted, two persons immediately leaped out for consideration – Retired Major General Joe Singh was the highly respected Chief of Staff of the Guyana Defence Force and was a former Chair of the Elections Commission for the 2002 elections, which were credibly held and Attorney at Law Teni Housty is a well-respected, well-qualified, senior, experienced, lawyer and former President of the Guyana Bar Association.

“Many of the other nominees are also well qualified but no one can seriously assert that the political persuasion of either of these gentlemen, if any, would influence their decisions. Many observers expected, or at least hoped, that President Granger would find suitable persons from the last six,” Ramkarran noted.

He opined that the PPP should have mounted a constitutional challenge after the President had rejected the first six names.

“The results of the case which was filed after the Leader of the Opposition had submitted a second set of names, showed that it could have been possible to obtain an order from the court directing the President to choose a name from that first six.

“The Leader of the Opposition having submitted two further sets of six names, each at the invitation of the President, for understandable reasons, has deprived him of the opportunity of having an order in relation to the first six names.”

According to the former House Speaker, the victim of rigged elections in Guyana since 1968 has been the people of Guyana, “but more specifically, the PPP and its supporters.”

“The deep fears of the PPP arising from the initial impasse over the selection of the Chair and now the eventual breakdown of the process must be instilling deep fear and anguish over the future and the prospect of being rigged out of office for another twenty-five years.”

Ramkarram said that democracy and free and fair elections are the foundation of social and economic progress, the basis on which good governance will be built and corruption eliminated.

He concluded that the government is under an obligation to demonstrate its fidelity to the democratic process in order to sustain the confidence of the Guyanese people.

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