GEORGETOWN, Guyana, Monday March 9, 2020 – A week after Guyanese went to the polls to choose a new government, Chief Justice Roxane George yesterday upheld an injunction blocking a winner from being declared, amid concerns about electoral laws being breached.
The injunction, filed by Reeaz Hollander, a supporter of the main opposition People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C), was granted last week by High Court judge, Justice Navindra Singh to prevent the outcome of the March 2 vote being declared until the legal process of verification of results in Region Four, Guyana’s largest electoral district, is complied with.
The court action came after the Returning Officer for Region Four, Clairmont Mingo, only allowed the verification process for Statements of Poll for 421 of the 897 polling stations. The unverified results put the incumbent A Partnership for National Unity-Alliance for Change (APNU-AFC) coalition in the lead over the PPP/C by just over 59,000 votes. The opposition has alleged fraud in the counting and verification process.
In maintaining Justice Singh’s injunction and ruling that the court can invoke is supervisory responsibility to ensure that the correct procedure is followed, the Chief Justice said she would begin hearing the case tomorrow to decide whether to direct Mingo to complete the verification process in the presence of party agents and local and international observers.
While attorneys for the applicant had argued that the court had jurisdiction to hear the matter, lawyers representing the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) contended that the applicant had been premature in going to the court since the issue could only be addressed via an election petition after the results of the vote were declared.
However, Justice George said in her ruling that a court cannot shirk its duty and “shelter behind the contention that an elections petition should be filed when the case clearly does not so warrant”.
“As such, having found that there is prima facie evidence to support the court having jurisdiction to hear this application, the respondents must be given a chance to be heard in response through any evidence they may wish to file,” she said.
Although disappointed with the ruling, attorney Roysdale Forde who is on GECOM’s legal team said they would comply with the order and review all options available at this stage.
“We remain resolute in our position that the declaration of the Returning Officer is a valid declaration made and we will return to court,” he said.
The law makes provision for the official declaration of results to be made within 15 days after the holding of elections, and GECOM’s lead lawyer Senior Counsel Neil Boston said he is confident that the Chief Justice will rule before that time expires.
Boston, Forde and Robin Hunte are representing the country’s elections body in the matter while the PPP/C is represented by Trinidad and Tobago Senior Counsel Douglas Mendes along with local attorneys Anil Nandlall and Sanjeev Datadin.
Meantime, GECOM said in a statement issued yesterday that it is “unfortunate how things have escalated” and insisted that it intended to abide by all legal and procedural requirements to conclude its work.
It also sought to explain the decision by Chief Elections Officer Keith Lowenfield to prepare his final report on the results of the elections and write to GECOM Chairperson Retired Justice Claudette Singh on Saturday seeking a meeting approve that report, although the injunction preventing the declaration of results was in place.
“The recent action of the Chief Election Officer indicating to the [GECOM] Chairperson and Commissioners that his report in the relation to the final declaration was completed was not intended to disregard the court proceedings, but rather apprising the Chairperson of the completion of the document and that she may convene a meeting at her convenience. In relation to this matter, no meeting was scheduled,” it said.
“GECOM remains resolute in the fulfillment of its constitutional and statutory obligation.”