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Dr Irfaan Ali

The Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) has reaffirmed its order barring Guyana’s Election Commission (GECOM) from declaring a result in its presidential election pending the determination of a lawsuit brought by that country’s Opposition People’s Progressive Party (PPP).

CCJ President Adrian Saunders repeatedly referred to the court’s preliminary order, granted when the lawsuit was filed by PPP presidential candidate Irfaan Ali and general secretary Bharrat Jagdeo earlier this week, as the appeal came up for case management, yesterday afternoon.

“We wish to reaffirm and restate the order that was given by the court on Monday evening. The status quo is to be maintained until the court gives its decision on this matter,” Saunders said, as he noted that the court would work to expeditiously deliver its decision after hearing submissions via video conferencing, next Wednesday.

During the virtual hearing, Senior Counsel Douglas Mendes, who is leading Ali and Jagdeo’s legal team, pointed out that after Guyana’s Court of Appeal delivered its decision in the constitutional case over the meaning of a phrase in the country’s elections legislation on declaring a winner, it granted a three-day stay to allow for an appeal.

The court held that “more votes cast” should be interpreted to mean “more valid votes are cast”.

He suggested that in direct breach of the order, Guyana’s Chief Election Officer Keith Lowenfield then produced a report on the “valid and credible votes” in the election, effectively striking out 25 per cent of the votes cast and showing a victory for the ruling APNU/AFC coalition.

Mendes called for the court to officially serve the proceedings on Lowenfield and GECOM, as neither attended nor were represented at the hearing although they were listed as parties.

In response, Saunders noted that it could not make any decision in relation to Lowenfield’s decision as it was done before it had granted its order.

During the hearing, Senior Counsel John Jeremie, who is leading the legal team for Eslyn David, the Guyanese citizen who brought the constitutional lawsuit, raised the issue of whether the CCJ had the jurisdiction to hear the case despite it being that country’s highest appellate court.

Although Jeremie suggested that the issue should be raised yesterday, Saunders and his colleagues on the seven-member panel hearing the appeal suggested that it would be dealt with during the substantive hearing, next week.

The election crisis in Guyana arose in December 2018, when a no-confidence motion in the coalition government led by President David Granger, was passed by the 65 member assembly by a slim 33 to 32 majority.

Following the motion, which effectively forced the Cabinet to resign, Guyana’s Attorney General Basil Williams filed a High Court action against Jagdeo and Speaker of the National Assembly, Dr Barton Scotland, to determine if the motion was lawfully passed.

Acting Chief Justice Roxanne George-Wiltshire weighed in on the issue first and ruled that the motion was correct passed although Persaud was illegally sitting as an MP due to his dual citizenship.

Guyana’s Court of Appeal overturned the judgement as Chancellor of the Judiciary Yonette Cummings-Edwards and Appellate Judge Dawn Gregory ruled that an absolute majority of 34 votes was required to pass the no-confidence motion.

In July, last year, the CCJ ruled against the incumbent government essentially upholding George-Wiltshire’s judgement.

While the CCJ advised that under Guyana’s Constitution elections were due within three months of the no-confidence vote or its ruling, the election was delayed over issues with GECOM finalising the list of voters.

The election issues arose shortly after the close of polls on March 2, and in relation to the vote count for the country’s largest electoral district.

The count had to be stopped several times as the returning officer for the district Clairmont Mingo fell ill and because of a bomb scare.

Mingo’s subsequent decision to declare the ruling APNU/AFC coalitions as the victors in the district was met with outrage by the public and a group of Caricom observers that were sent to monitor the election, as his figures allegedly did not align statement of polls records used by parties for independent verification.

The PPP brought a lawsuit and GECOM was ordered to perform a recount. The process was stymied several times leading to a Caricom delegation led by Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley and including Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley flying to the country to speak with the leaders of the major political parties.

The process was completed on June 8, with the result going in favour of the PPP. David then filed the lawsuit, currently on appeal.