AG wants court to strike out ‘No Confidence’ provision in constitution

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Attorney General Basil Williams, through his Attorney Maxwell Edward Friday asked the High Court to strike out Article 106 (6) of the Constitution which allows for a No Confidence vote.

His argument was that the provision in the Constitution which provides for the No Confidence vote is repugnant to the earlier Constitutional provision, namely Article 70 (3) which guarantees an elected Government a five-year term.

The Chief Justice (ag), Roxanne George Wiltshire will rule next Thursday on the issue and others brought before her on three applications challenging the No Confidence vote of December 21.

The applications were made by New Amsterdam resident Compton Reid, Attorney-at-Law Christopher Ram and the Attorney General Basil Williams.

The vote of No Confidence was deemed carried by the Speaker of the National Assembly on the vote of 33 to 32. The motion was brought by the Opposition PPP which only has 32 seats in the House and the Government depended on its solid 33 to defeat the motion.

However, one of the Government’s own Parliamentarians, Charrandass Persaud voted in favour with the Opposition.

In oral arguments before the court Friday, the Attorney General claimed that the vote was not carried by a majority, since majority would have to be 34 or more votes and not 33.

In the 65-seat House, he argued, half of the votes would have to be 32.5, and since there is no half-person, that number has to be rounded to 33; in that case, one more vote, he said, would be needed to form a majority.

The Leader of the Opposition, through his Attorney Anil Nandlall, used several examples to show that the literal, arithmetical and common-sensical use of the word majority must be taken into account, and that would mean 33 is greater than 32 members of the House and so the vote was carried.

Majority, Nandlall stated, is defined by Blacks Law dictionary in its 8th edition as: “A majority always refers to more than half of some defined or assumed set. In parliamentary law, that set, may be all of the members or some subset, such as all members present or all members voting on a particular question.”

He said that the Constitution does not use any adjective in front of the word “majority” and so “majority” means a simple majority.

He cited the case of Walland v. City of Macomb in Illinois, which was decided on April 26, 2013.

In that case, it was ruled that the word “majority” means, simply, more than half.

“The use of any other definition, such as 50 percent plus one, is apt to cause problems,” the Court ruled.

“Suppose in voting on a motion 17 votes are cast, 9 favor and 8 opposed. Fifty percent of the votes cast is 8 1/2, so that 50 percent plus one would be 9 1/2.

“Under such an erroneous definition of a majority, one might say that the motion was not adopted because it did not receive 50 percent plus one of the votes cast, although it was quite clearly, passed by a majority vote.”

In addition, Nandlall argued that it was the widely accepted practice, custom and norm over the last two Parliaments in Guyana that 33 constituted a majority for the passage of legislation, motions and other business of Parliament, including five national budgets.

In the 10th parliament, he noted that the PPP Government had 32 seats and the APNU and AFC, in Opposition, had a combined 33 seats.

For every decision that requited a vote from 2011 to 2015, those decisions were made, or passed, by a majority of the elected members of the National Assembly, that majority being 33 votes.

Accordingly, he stated, it is unequivocal that this practice must also apply to the passage of the No Confidence motion, there being no good reason to deviate from it.

In the other applications, the New Amsterdam resident Reid claimed that the vote of Mr Charrandass Persaud could not be counted because he is a dual citizen, being a citizen of both Guyana and Canada.

On that ground, he claimed that just 32 votes were cast in favour of the motion and 32 against. In cases where there is an equal vote it is not carried.

Christopher Ram wants the court to declare that the vote was properly taken and carried and should be deemed valid, forcing the Government to call elections in three months.

Apart from the written submissions she received, the Chief Justice has listened to oral arguments over the past three days and she will make a ruling on the afternoon of January 31.

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