GEORGETOWN, Guyana, Tuesday June 18, 2019 – The Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) this morning ruled that the no-confidence motion passed against the Guyana government in December last year was valid, and a decision now has to be taken on the next move.
CCJ President Justice Adrian Saunders delivered the judgment of the Trinidad-based court which last month heard cases related to the motion filed and passed in Guyana’s National Assembly, with the support of then government backbencher Charrandass Persaud.
In December 2018, Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo moved the no-confidence motion and Persaud joined the 32 Opposition members in the 65-seat National Assembly in supporting it, resulting in a total of 33 votes for and 32 against. Despite the Speaker of the Assembly declaring the motion had been validly passed, the Government neither resigned nor announced elections, and it turned to the High Court which ruled in its favour, on the grounds that 34 votes (half of the National Assembly, plus one) was the majority needed for the motion to pass. The Court of Appeal, however, ruled that a simple majority of 33 was required – a ruling that the CCJ has agreed with.
The CCJ said today that the requirement for “a majority of all the elected members of the National Assembly”, as stated in the Constitution, referred to a majority of the total number of votes or seats in the Assembly, irrespective of the number of members who actually vote. In determining that majority, the CCJ was of the opinion that the ‘half plus one’ rule was not applicable, and the majority was clearly at least 33 votes.
The Guyana Constitution requires elections to be held within three months of the defeat of the Government on a motion of confidence, unless two-thirds of the National Assembly extends that period. It states that the Cabinet, including the President, is required to resign if the Government is defeated by the majority vote of all the elected members of the National Assembly on a vote of confidence.
In the coming days, the CCJ will hear further arguments from the parties on the consequences that should flow from the validity of the motion of no confidence.
The second issue which the CCJ had to rule on was whether Persaud was ineligible to vote in the first place as he held Canadian citizenship. Dual citizens are not allowed to put themselves up for candidacy in elections to the National Assembly.
The CCJ found that the National Assembly (Validity of Elections) Act required that a petition alleging that Persaud was disqualified from running for office would have had to be filed in the High Court of Guyana within 28 days after the publication of the results of the 2015 election. Since this case was filed in January 2019, the Court held that the challenge to Persaud’s election to the Assembly had been out of time.
The Court also rejected the submission that Persaud was absolutely required to vote against the motion of no confidence along with other members of the Government.