GEORGETOWN, Guyana, Tuesday June 26, 2018 – The Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) today ruled that there is nothing unconstitutional or unlawful about limiting a president in Guyana to two terms in office.
The decision means that former president Bharrat Jagdeo, who has already served two terms, won’t be able to run for president again, even if he wanted to.
The historic ruling handed down earlier today in the Trinidad-based court struck down a decision made by former acting Chief Justice Ian Chang in July 2015 and upheld by the Court of Appeal.
Delivering the judgement, outgoing CCJ President, Justice Denis Byron, said constitutional amendments made in 2001, which set a two-term limit for presidents and added further qualifications that a candidate for President must be a Guyanese by birth or parentage, residing in Guyana on the date of nomination for election, and continuously resident in the country for a period of seven years before nomination day, were “validly enacted”.
The CCJ said it felt that it was clear that the amendment did not emerge from the desire of any
political party to manipulate the requirements to run for the office of President, noting that the Constitution was amended after extensive national consultation and therefore represented a sincere attempt to enhance democracy in Guyana.
The challenge to the term limits had been filed in December 2014 by a private citizen, Cedric Richardson who had argued that the constitutional amendment curtailed “the democratic rights and freedom of the electorate” by purporting to eliminate from the executive Presidential candidature, a person like Jagdeo.
It came in the run up to the 2015 general elections which the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) lost to the A Partnership for National Unity + Alliance for Change (APNU+AFC) Coalition after 23 years in office, of which Bharrat Jagdeo served two terms as President. The challenge ostensibly sought to allow Jagdeo to contest elections again, although Jagdeo distanced himself from the case.
Justice Chang had ruled in Richardson’s favour, saying that the presidential term-limit was unconstitutional without the approval of the people through a referendum. His ruling further allowed for naturalized citizens to run for president and invalidated the requirement that a presidential candidate be present in Guyana on Nomination Day.
But the decision was challenged by Attorney General Basil Williams and the then Speaker of the National Assembly, Raphael Trotman, in the Court of Appeal. When the higher court upheld the ruling, Williams then moved to the CCJ.
In its 6-1 ruling, the CCJ said the presidential term limit in Guyana’s Constitution was fit and proper.
Justice Winston Anderson was the lone judge to offered a dissenting judgment.
In his opinion, the amendment was therefore unconstitutional because it disqualified five categories of persons from standing for the post of President who were not previously so disqualified without the approval of the people in a referendum.
He contended that the new categories of disqualification probably resulted in the exclusion of thousands of otherwise eligible Guyanese citizens from being elected as President, and that the
freedom of the Guyanese people to elect as their President the person whom they consider best able to do the job was therefore substantially curtailed.