Statutory not constitutional: Nandlall clarifies electoral reform proposals


Rebuffing criticisms of the government’s proposed reform of the country’s election laws, Attorney General Anil Nandlall, SC, on Tuesday clarified that the suggested amendments are merely statutory and not constitutional.

Nandlall explained that the amendments to the Representation of the People’s Act (ROPA), and later to the National Registration Act, which can be passed with a simple majority in the National Assembly, will not be able to address some existing concerns of citizens.

The Attorney was at the time being critical of comments offered by Attorney and former Speaker of the National Assembly Ralph Ramkarran, SC, which appeared in his Sunday Conversation Tree column.

Ramkarran had claimed that failure to establish a mixed electoral system of first past the post and propositional representation; the composition of the Guyana Election Commission (GECOM) and the manner in which the Chairman is appointed among others had made the proposals “inadequate.”

Attorney General Anil Nandlall, SC (Photo: News Room/October 12, 2021)

“We can’t change that in these statutory reforms,” Nandlall said as he also dismissed concerns raised by retired international economist Desmond Thomas and former Attorney General Basil Williams, SC.

The AG argued that addressing those concerns requires an amendment to the Constitution, something that would require the government to secure a two-thirds majority in the National Assembly to push those through. The government holds a one-seat majority and fears it may not get the opposition’s support to successfully make changes to the Constitution.

Nandlall said when the government, while in opposition, had promised to amend elections laws it was made clear then that it will not relate to the constitution but what the government can pass with the simple parliamentary majority it holds.

“What he is proposing is a constitutional change and that is outside of the remit of this exercise. We said openly and repeatedly that this exercise is not a constitutional reform process,” Nandlall explained.

Nandlall said just as anticipated the APNU+AFC Coalition seems not inclined to support the government’s amendments, which seek to prevent electoral fraud and strengthen the election management machinery.

“Matters that affect the Constitution in relation to the electoral process will not be pursued via this exercise…. we will not endeavor an exercise that will be futile.”

“We have put forward our proposals as we committed to do it is now for others to share their views through a process that will distill issues that will be incorporated if common grounds are found and disputes will be resolved in the National Assembly by voting.

“There are going to be two installments of these amendments. One will be a consideration of ROPA… and the other will be consideration of the registration ACT and its various amendments,” Nandlall explained during his Tuesday night ‘Issues in the News’ commentary aired on his Facebook page.

The AG said his Chambers is working on additional changes, which will specifically target voter registration.

According to the Attorney General, because of the long-running challenge to how registration must be done, he thought it was fitting to clarify existing laws on registration so as to remove contradictions.

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