Guyana’s Opposition People’s Progressive Party (PPP) has won its appeal seeking to resolve that country’s controversial outstanding presidential election result.
Delivering a judgement in a virtual hearing yesterday, Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) President Adrian Saunders ruled that Guyana’s Court of Appeal did not have the jurisdiction to hear a case in which they interpreted article 177 of the country’s constitution and determined that “more votes cast” mean “more valid votes cast” in a presidential election.
“The decision was made without jurisdiction. It was therefore not final and is of no effect,” Saunders said in a judgement summary read during the brief hearing.
In the judgement, Saunders and his colleagues ruled that the Guyana Court of Appeal only had exclusive jurisdiction to interpret the constitution to determine if a presidential candidate had the proper qualifications for the post. The court suggested a determination on the validity of votes cast should be done through an election petition in Guyana’s High Court after the results are properly declared.
Based on its decision on the Appeal Court’s lack of jurisdiction to hear the case brought by Guyana citizen Eslyn David, the CCJ rejected submissions that it (the CCJ) did not have jurisdiction to hear the appeal as Guyana’s final appellate court.
However, the decision does not bring final resolution to Guyana’s election debacle, as election petitions challenging the validity of the election can still be brought by citizens or political parties once the election result is declared by Guyana’s Election Commission (GECOM). Such a petition may be appealed in the Court of Appeal and then at the CCJ.
As a secondary issue in the case, the CCJ considered a report from Guyana’s Chief Election Officer Keith Lowenfield on the “valid and credible votes” in the March 2 election, which was submitted shortly after the Appeal Court’s decision two weeks ago.
In the report, Lowenfield effectively struck out 25 per cent of the votes cast because they had irregularities. The report showed a victory for the ruling APNU/AFC coalition.
“By the unnecessary insertion of the word “valid,” the Court of Appeal impliedly invited the CEO (Lowenfield) to engage unilaterally in an unlawful validation exercise,” Saunders said, as the court invalidated Lowenfield’s report.
In the judgement, Saunders also expressed hope the election issue, which has resulted in the country being without a sitting National Assembly for almost a year, would be speedily resolved in the interest of the country
“No one in Guyana would regard this to be a satisfactory state of affairs. We express the fervent hope that there would quickly be a peaceable restoration of normalcy,” Saunders said.
In a message posted on his Facebook page afterwards, PPP General Secretary Bharrat Jagdeo, who filed the appeal with PPP presidential candidate Irfaan Ali, said they were pleased with the outcome and looked forward to GECOM declaring the election in their favour. Jagdeo also expressed hope that ruling APNU/AFC coalition would not bring any additional challenges to stymie the process.
“We hope the APNU would not continue in its endeavours to block the speedy conclusion of the election process,” Jagdeo said.
Meanwhile, addressing a group of his supporters outside his official residence, President David Granger called for patience as GECOM completes the process. While Granger said his party would observe the rule of law, he maintained complaints about voting irregularities.
“This is the first time this has happened in the history of our country. It has happened because there are some bad elements out there who tried to manipulate the vote,” Granger said.