The Chief Justice ruled last week in the case brought by Christopher Ram in connection with the house to house registration that it is unlawful to remove names from the registration list during the current exercise merely because they are not present at the addresses or had migrated. The stated objective of the house to house registration was to remove the names from what was described as a list ‘bloated’ by 200,000 names. It was not quite clear how the ‘bloating’ occurred, or how the figure of 200,000 was conjured up, but it was assumed that these were persons who had died or migrated.
The Attorney General described the decision of the Chief Justice as a “statement” regarding the removal of persons from the National Register of Registrants and as more like a “suggestion” to the Guyana Elections Commission. It is not an “order,” he said, and the Chief Justice could not have intended to direct GECOM. This must be a hint to GECOM that it can ignore the Chief Justice’s decision and continue the house to house registration.
Judges give “decisions” in cases. These are sometimes called “rulings.” Based on these decisions, “orders” are made. Sometimes orders are not necessary or relevant. The decisions are nevertheless, still binding. A Judge is also entitled to deal with all issues arising in cases before her.
During the hearing of the case before the Chief Justice, it transpired that registered persons who were not at their addressed would not be re-registered. Since the electoral list is extracted from the registration list, these persons would lose their right to vote, whatever the reason for them not being at their addresses, be it employment away from home or migration. The Chief Justice ruled that persons who are not at the addresses where they last registered, have not lost the right to vote for the reasons above and cannot be taken off the registration list. The Chief said that “it would be unconstitutional if a person already registered is removed because they reside in another jurisdiction or another location in Guyana.”
The primary objective of the house to house registration is or was to eliminate from the list the 200,000 ‘bloated’ names. Many epithets were deployed to convince those listening that the list was totally worthless, and possibly deliberately so. It was alleged to be “incorrect,’ “corrupted,” “needing to be sanitized.” Since it is the “decision” of the Chief Justice, not merely a “suggestion” as claimed by the Attorney General, it means that it would be unlawful to remove the names.
GECOM is headed by an experienced Judge who would understand the implications of the Chief Justice’s decision. The Chair of GECOM would understand that it would be pointless to continue with the house to house registration exercise because to do so would result in great harm to the prospects for free and fair elections because persons who are omitted from the list would lose the right to vote. The other problem is that the creation of a new voters’ list from house to house registration will not materialize until mid next year at the earliest. Elections which, according to the Chief Justice were due since March 21, 2018, albeit on an unlawful list, would be further delayed.
The Chief Justice said that the voters’ list used for the 2018 local government elections is valid and the means exist to update that list. There is therefore no legal or other obstacle to GECOM deciding to update the 2018 list in order that elections which, according to the Chief Justice, is overdue, can be held. The Chief Justice said that “GECOM cannot act as if it is a normal election cycle – it has to act within the context of the no confidence motion.” The Chief Justice clearly means that elections should be held as early as possible. All eyes are therefore on GECOM as to what decision it will take and in what direction it will guide Guyana.
The views of the Attorney General have set the stage for the Government to argue that it can ignore the decision of the Chief Justice, just as the Government has ignored the decision of the CCJ. The Government’s refusal to accept decisions of the courts looks very much like studied policy, pursued with avid determination since December 21.
The deliberate violation of Guyana’s constitution is an extremely serious matter. In all normal countries, elections are held after a no confidence motion is passed. The agonizing legal journey that is still ongoing to persuade the Government to observe the constitutional provisions relating to the no confidence motion, demonstrates that our political system encourages this political behavior. The trampling upon our Constitution is justified in the interests of political domination. Until the drive for domination is eliminated from our political system, this undemocratic behavior will continue.