Guyana’s High Court Orders Recount Of Ballots In Disputed Election Region

Acting Chief Justice, Roxanne George-Wiltshire

GEORGETOWN, Guyana, (CMC) – Acting Chief Justice, Roxanne George-Wiltshire, ruled, today, that the declaration, made by the Returning Office in Region 4, in Guyana’s disputed regional and general on March 2, was “unlawful” and in breach of the Representation of the People’s Act.

In a lengthy ruling, the Acting Chief Justice acknowledged her ruling would be of national importance and would evoke widespread interest and awareness.

“I understand that whatever rulings are made today, are likely to excite emotions of different kinds from the parties involved, as well as the wider audience and community,” she told the Court.

The High Court had to decide whether or not, the injunction — granted to a supporter of the main opposition People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) to block the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) from declaring the results of the elections — was justified, on the grounds that the votes declared for Region Four were not completely verified.

In her ruling, the Acting Chief Justice said she did not agree with the declaration, being sought, that GECOM “is the only body constitutionally and statutorily authorised to declare the results of the general election, pursuant to section 96″, to be necessary, adding “this is a given fact”.

She said the Court orders “that the declaration, made on the 5th of March 2020, by the Returning Officer in District Four, for the total votes cast in District Four, was unlawful, as being in breach of section 84 (1) of the Representation of the People’s Act…and is null, void, and of no effect”.

She said also that the declaration made on the same day “is hereby vacated and set aside”.

“Any act, done in pursuant of the said declaration, is hereby deemed null and void and of no effect,” she said, noting also “it would be for the Returning Officer, the Deputy Returning Officer to decide whether they will restart or continue the process. It is their decision to make”.

She said it was also “their decision to decide on the best methods in tabulating…the poll”.

“So I want to emphasise, everybody else, who think they can have an input in the say, (it) is not their statutory duty. It is also ordered that the Guyana Elections Commission cannot lawfully declare the results of the elections of March 2, 2020, unless and until the Returning Officer or Deputy Returning Officer for District Four, complies with and ensures compliance with provisions of section 84 (1) of Chapter 103.”

The Acting Chief Justice said the injunction is granted, restraining the Returning Officer for District Four “from any manner, whatsoever, declaring the votes in District Four, recorded for each list of candidates in District Four, before complying with, or ensuring, the compliance with the process, set out in section 84 of Chapter 103″.

She said also that the injunction, restraining GECOM from declaring the total number of votes cast for each political party, until the Returning Officer or the Deputy Returning Officer for District Four complies with the relevant measures, as outlined in the legislation, is also being made final.

The Acting Chief Justice said that because of the urgency of the situation, she was making the following orders: “The Returning Officer and Deputy Returning Officer for District Four must commence compliance, with section 84 (1) of the Representation of the People’s Act Chapter 103, no later than 11 hours on Thursday, March 12, 2020.

“That in the interest of transparency, taking into consideration the need for urgency, the Returning Officer, the Deputy Returning Officer in District Four is to decide, whether the process of ascertaining the total votes cast in favour of each list in the District, by adding up the votes recorded in favour of the list, in accordance with the statements of poll, should be restarted or continued.

“It is also ordered that this order is to be served on counsel for the parties and is to be deemed service on the parties.”

But in her address to the Court, the Acting Chief Justice noted an earlier ruling, nearly two decades ago, by retired Justice Desiree Bernard, that the Court ruling today, “does not decide the result or the validity of the elections for District Four, regionally or nationally”.

“This decision is concerned with the conduct of a Returning Officer, in compliance with section 84 (1) Chapter 103. Further, I must lament that it is particularly saddening that, 19 years after the Hamilton case, the words of Chief Justice Bernard …still ring true.

“I quote, ‘the role of the Elections Commission and its staff is to take such action, as it appears necessary, to ensure the impartiality, fairness and compliance with the provisions of the constitution and any other acts of Parliament. In the present volatile situation, which pervades our country, no effort must be spared to assure everyone that the process was fair and impartial. Lingering doubts will hang like a sword of Damocles over the head of the Commission must be removed. Confidence in the electoral process must be restored. This is absolutely essential, if we, as a nation, have to move forward and strive to heal the wounds that divide us, Let fairness prevail in all of our actions at all times’, end quote,” the Chief Justice said.

“I could not have said it better,” the Acting Chief Justice said, adding “I will add, going forward, all must try to encourage respect for the other. While elections are often fraught with anxiety …and hostility, we must remember that the elections staff are human and they must be treated with respect.”

She urged the leaders of political parties to encourage their supporters to be civil, respectful and responsible.

“The integrity of our nation demands that we act, responsibly. In this regard, I am compelled to admonish all, to respect the processes and orders of the Court,” the Acting Chief Justice said.

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