Afraid of licks, Opposition files case to halt Local Gov’t elections over new boundaries
Afraid of being beaten in new Local Authority Areas, the opposition A Partnership for National Unity (APNU), largely made up of the People’s National Congress (PNC), has filed an application to halt the Local Government Elections unless its concerns regarding new boundaries are addressed.
The application in the High Court was made by Carol Joseph, the chief scrutineer of APNU, and a supporting affidavit was filed by Vincent Alexander, Commissioner of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM), in which he argues that the PNC will be disadvantaged if the June 12, 2023 elections go ahead with the boundaries that have been set out.
GECOM, by way of a majority vote on January 31, 2023, agreed to change the boundaries of 37 constituencies in 19 local authority areas. It subsequently issued an order to this effect. The changes were published in the official gazette on February 8, 2023.
Joseph, in her application, claims that this was done in violation of Article 72 of the Constitution and Section 3 (1) (a) and (b) of the Local Authorities Act Chapter 28:03.
Joseph wants the Court to issue an order directing GECOM to comply with the legal provisions cited before attempting to change the boundaries of any constituency in Guyana and before the holding of Local Government Elections.
In an affidavit of support, Commissioner Alexander claims that the Chief Elections Officer (CEO), Vishnu Persaud was tasked with conducting a field exercise and to make recommendations to the Commissioners with regards to the changing and/or establishing of boundaries of constituencies for the holding of Local Government Elections.
The Commissioners, Alexander claimed, decided that the field exercise should be guided by the precedents of past field exercises on this issue.
Alexander contended that the CEO subsequently presented a report that indicated that his field officers had found no problems with the demarcation proposed by the Minister of Local Government because the law provided for such demarcation to be done by combining and/or subdividing electoral divisions.
The CEO, Alexander contended, said he could not find any precedent and in view of the urgency, he, the CEO, proposed that the boundaries be demarcated in accordance with his recommendation which coincided with those previously recommended by the Minister of Local Government.
But Alexander, in his affidavit, noted that Commissioners rejected this at a meeting on January 10 and instructed the CEO to carry out the exercise based on precedent. But again, Alexander claimed, the CEO responded that he could find no precedent.
Alexander said he provided documents that show how the exercise was conducted in the past and provided several reports showing discussions took place on how the exercise should be conducted.
But the Commission decided that the CEO should proceed with his exercise and on presentation of his report, the Commission will decide and consider the issues raised by him, Alexander.
On January 31, the CEO presented his report and Alexander said he noticed the exercise did not follow the documents he had presented.
The Commission, by a majority vote, rejected Alexander’s arguments and accepted the CEO’s report.
Article 72 of the Constitution provides for the division of Guyana into sub-divisions as is necessary for the purpose of organising local democratic organs. In doing the division, consideration must be given to, among other things, the population, the physical size and geographic characteristics, and economic resources.
The Constitution also sets out that divisions should be provided for where there is the need for such and where the people request their establishment.
Alexander in his affidavit, said he plans to argue that the CEO only took account of the population of the areas and geography in the context of divisional and sub-divisional boundaries.
Alexander said he will contend that geographical characteristics should also include typography, soil type, hydrology, natural boundaries, rivers, creeks, and roads.
He said that the divisions will affect the PNC because dividing population areas/constituencies that historically are supportive of the PNC will change the dynamics so much that the PNC will be a minority in those areas. As a result, he contended, the PNC has a lesser chance of winning constituency seats in some reconfigured Local Authority Areas.
As an example, he said the Toevlugt/Patentia Local Authority area has been extended to create a new constituency largely populated by potential supporters of the PPP in such a manner as to give that party an additional constituency seat in the Local Authority area.
Chief Justice Roxane George will call up the case for a meeting on May 30, 2023.