Chief Justice rules 33 is majority, No Confidence motion lawful and valid

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Chief Justice (ag) Roxane George-Wiltshire Thursday afternoon ruled that the December 21 No Confidence vote was validly carried or passed, paving the way for elections by March 21, unless the government and opposition agree to an extension.

In the other major argument about what constitutes a majority in the House, the Chief Justice ruled that 33 members in the 65-seat House was all that was needed for the passage of the No Confidence motion.

The Chief Justice emphasized that the President and the Government Ministers cannot remain in office beyond three months of passage of the No Confidence motion unless there is parliamentary agreement.

The Chief Justice refused the application by the Attorney General for a stay in implementation of her judgment.

The Attorney General has since indicated that the Government intends to appeal; as such the Chief Justice urged him to file the appeal early and that the Appeal Court may consider any Stay of her ruling.

The Attorney General, Basil Williams, 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 Chief Justice did not agree.

Her ruling was in harmony with the arguments put forward by the Leader of the Opposition, through his Attorney Anil Nandlall.

Nandlall had used several examples to show that the literal 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.

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

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 required 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 is 33 votes.

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

She upheld the validity of the vote even though she also ruled that Berbice Parliamentarian Charrandass Persaud occupied his seat in violation of the Constitution; this was on the grounds that the Constitution blocks anyone from being a dual citizen from being elected a Member of the House.

Justice George-Wilshire ruled that while Charrandass Persaud was elected to the House in violation of the constitution, given his dual citizenship, she could not reverse the vote since there is also a constitutional provision that determines what happens in such a case.

Lawyers for Charrandass Persaud had argued that if the Chief Justice issues an order invalidating his election to the National Assembly, the validity of his vote could not be questioned.

Article 165(2) of the Constitution states that the presence or participation of a Member who is actually not entitled to be there “shall not invalidate those proceedings.”

Further, lawyers for Charrandass Persaud had argued that the Validity of Election Act stipulates that any challenge to the election of a Member should be done by way of elections petition, which was not done in this case, and that any such challenge should be made within 28 days.

On December 21, there was a debate on the No Confidence Motion brought by Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo.

The Opposition has 32 seats in the House and the Government 33.

To pass the motion, the PPP needed someone from the government to defect. That person turned out to be Berbice Parliamentarian Charrandass Persaud.

With his vote, the Speaker of the National Assembly had declared that the motion was carried or passed.

The government almost immediately accepted defeat and said it would call elections in three months as required by Article 106 (6) of the Constitution.

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

The Chief Justice also refused the orders to preserve the status quo and she also denied the request for the vote to be set aside.

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