Court, not GECOM has authority to strike names from lists –Shuman

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By Ravin Singh

With less than 30 days before Guyanese head to the polls to elect their leaders, another legal battle might be looming to decide whether the Liberty and Justice Party’s (LJP’s) leader, Lenox Shuman can legally contest these historic elections.

Shuman was given a January 31 deadline to provide the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) with proof that he was not a dual citizen on January 10 when he submitted his party’s list of candidates; failure of which would result in him being barred from contesting the elections.

Article 155 of the Constitution states that: “No person shall be qualified for election as a member of the National Assembly who- (a) is by virtue of his own act, under any acknowledgement of allegiance, obedience or adherence to a foreign power or state…”

Shuman has since claimed that he applied to relinquish the Canadian citizenship which he held for 28 years. He also holds Guyanese citizenship.

But according to the LJP leader in a Kaieteur Radio interview on Friday, GECOM does not have the legal authority to remove candidates from the lists submitted last month.

In a 36-point statement tendered by Shuman in response to GECOM, the primary defence being relied upon is that the court, and not GECOM, has the authority to remove names, as is outlined in Article 163 of the Constitution.

That Article states that: “Subject to the provisions of this article, the High Court shall have exclusive jurisdiction to determine any question – (a) regarding the qualification of any person to be elected as a member of the National Assembly…”

“There is no ambiguity in Article 163. We have not seen anything in the Constitution which gives that mandate to GECOM. It gives it to the court under Article 163,” Shuman stressed.

He also railed against GECOM for what he describes as “selective application” of a non-existing law.

The LJP leader reasoned that while it is the Court and not GECOM which has the authority to remove names, what he found interesting is that only leaders of smaller parties are being targeted.

Presidential Candidate of the United Republic Party (URP), Dr Vishnu Bhandu and People’s Republic Party (PRP) candidate, Dr Valerie Leung were also written to by GECOM to provide proof of them relinquishing their foreign citizenship.

“If you’re going to ask us these questions, would it not stand to reason that every single candidate must provide proof that they’re only a citizen of Guyana?” Shuman questioned.

Last year Ministers Carl Greenidge, Joseph Harmon, Dominic Gaskin and Dr. Rupert Roopnaraine were forced to resign after it was discovered that they were sitting in the National Assembly illegally due to their dual citizen status.

On the Opposition side, Gail Teixeira, Adrian Anamayah and Odinga Lumumba were also forced to give up their parliamentary seats for the same reason.

It is a criminal offence if a dual citizen signs GECOM’s Statutory Declaration form. All of those individuals have signed that form and currently appear on lists submitted by other parties, with the exception of Dr. Roopnaraine.

And according to Shuman, none of these individuals were written to by GECOM, requesting proof of them relinquishing their foreign citizenship.

“You cannot take an extraordinary measure to apply a law that doesn’t exist to only three candidates. It must be applied to all 600+ candidates,” he argued.

Asked what would be his next step should GECOM still move to have names struck down, Shuman said that a legal battle will ensue.

“We go to the courts,” he said, adding that in order for Article 163 to have effect, either GECOM or a private citizen has to make an application to the court to have names removed from the list.

“It cannot be done from the Commission,” the LJP leader maintained.

He said that once it is taken to the Court, an opportunity will be presented for the affected candidates to prove whether they are eligible by examining their citizenship status.

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