Recount of Region Four Ballots Ordered
GEORGETOWN, Guyana, Mar 11, CMC – The Acting Chief Justice, Roxane George-Wiltshire, Wednesday ruled that the declaration made by the Returning Office in Region 4 in Guyana’s disputed regional and general on March 2 was “unlawful” and in breach of the Representation of the People’s Act.
In a lengthy ruling, the Actin Chief Justice acknowledged her ruling would be of national importance and would evoke widespread interest and awareness.
“I understand that whatever rulings are made today are likely to excite emotions of different kinds from the parties involved as well as the wider audience and community,” she told the Court.
The High Court had to decide whether or not, the injunction granted to a supporter of the main opposition People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) to block the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) from declaring the results of the elections was justified on the grounds that the votes declared for Region Four were not completely verified.
Last week Thursday, Justice Navindra Singh granted the injunction against GECOM, the Chief Election Officer, Keith Lowenfield and Returning Officer for Region Four Clairmont Mingo.
But four days after polls were held, GECOM released to the media, results for Region Four, and if, certified would have resulted in the ruling coalition, A Partnership for National Unity plus the Alliance for Change (APNU+AFC) defeating the main opposition PPP/C by more than 59,000 votes and securing another term in office.
GECOM public relations officer, Yolanda Ward, had forwarded without comment images of Statutory Declaration Form 24. The Form shows the incumbent APNU+AFC securing 136,335 votes while the PPP/C has earned 77,258 a difference of 59,077.
In her ruling, the Acting Chief Justice said she had did not agree with the declaration being sought that GECOM “is the only body constitutionally and statutorily authorised to declare the results of the general election pursuant to section 96 to be necessary,” adding “this is a given fact.”
She said the Court orders “that the declaration made on the 5th of March 2020, by the Returning Officer in District Four for the total votes cast in District Four was unlawful as being in breach of section 84 (1) of the Representation of the People’s Act…and is null void and of no effect.”
She said also that the declaration made on the same day “is hereby vacated and set aside.
“Any act done in pursuant of the said declaration is hereby deem null and void and of no effect,’ she said, noting also “it would be for the Returning Officer, the Deputy Returning Officer to decide whether they will restart or continue the process. It is their decision to make.”
She said it was also “their decision to decide on the best methods in tabulating…the poll.
“So I want to emphasise everybody else who think they can have an input in the say is not their statutory duty. It is also ordered that the Guyana Elections Commission cannot lawfully declare the results of the elections of March 2, 2020, unless and until the Returning Officer or Deputy Returning Officer for District Four complies with and or ensures compliance with provisions of section 84 (1) of Chapter 103”
The Acting Chief Justice said the injunction is granted restraining the Returning Officer for District Four “from any manner whatsoever declaring the votes in District Four recorded for each list of candidates in District Four before complying with or ensuring the compliance with the process set out in section 84 of Chapter 103.
She said also the injunction restraining GECOM from declaring the total number of votes cast for each political party until the Returning Officer or the Deputy Returning Officer for District Four complies with the relevant measures as outlined in the legislation is also being made final.
The Acting Chief Justice said that because of the urgency of the situation, she was making the following orders.
“The Returning Officer and Deputy Returning Officer for District Four must commence compliance with section 84 (1) of the Representation of the People’s Act Chapter 103 no later than 11 hours on Thursday March 12, 2020.
“That in the interest of transparency, taking into consideration the need for urgency, the Returning Officer, the Deputy Returning Officer in District Four is to decide whether the process of ascertaining the total votes cast in favour of each list in the District by adding up the votes recorded in favour of the list in accordance with the statements of poll should be restarted or continued.
“It is also ordered that this order is to be served on counsel for the parties and is to be deemed service on the parties,” she said.
But in her address to the Court, the Acting Chief Justice said noted an earlier ruling nearly two decades ago by retired Justice Desiree Bernard that he Court ruling today “does not decide the result of the validity of the elections for District Four regionally or nationally.
“This decision is concerned with the conduct of a Returning Officer in compliance with section 84 (1) Chapter 103. Further I must lament that it is particularly saddening that 19 years after the Hamilton case, the words of Chief Justice Bernard …still ring true.
“I quote, the role of the Elections Commission and its staff is to take such action as it appears necessary to ensure the impartiality, fairness and compliance with the provisions of the constitution and any other acts of Parliament. In the present volatile situation which pervades our country no effort must be spare to assure everyone that the process was fair and impartial. Lingering doubts will hang like a sword of Damocles over the head of the Commission must be removed.
“Confidence in the electoral process must be restored. This is absolutely essential if we as a nation have to move forward and strive to heal the wounds that divide us, Let fairness prevail in all of our actions at all times, end quote”.
“I could not have said it better,” the Acting Chief Justice said, adding “ I will add going forward all must try to encourage respect for the other, while elections are often fraught with anxiety …and hostility, we must remember that the elections staff are human and they must be treated with respect”.
She urged the leaders of political parties to encourage their supporters to be civil, respectful and responsible.
“The integrity of our nation demands that we act responsibly. In this regard I am compelled to admonish all to respect the processes nd orders of the Court,” the Acting Chief Justice said.