CCJ halts questionable declaration of Guyana election recount

The Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) has issued an order restraining Guyana’s Elections Commission (GECOM) from declaring the outcome of a recount of the votes cast in the country’s 2 March general election. It did so pending a full hearing of a challenge to a decision by the country’s Chief Election Officer, Keith Lowenfield, to invalidate nearly 115,787 or almost 25% of all the votes cast.

The order followed a challenge by the opposition People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) to an earlier legal ruling by Guyana’s Court of Appeal in relation to the meaning of the language used by Lowenfield. His report to GECOM on the recount claimed that based on the “valid and credible votes” cast, the incumbent, A Partnership for National Unity + Alliance for Change (APNU+AFC), had won the election.

As Insight’s 12 June issue (Volume 42 Issue 12) reported, the 33-day recount had, however, indicated that the opposition PPP/C had secured a total of 233,336 votes to the APNU+AFC’s 217,920, with 5,214 votes going to the Joinder Alliance. This should have meant under normal circumstances and the country’s proportional representation system that the PPP/C would have been declared the winner, assume the Presidency and have 33 seats in parliament to the APNU+AFC’s 31, and the Joinder Alliance one .

The CCJ’s restraining order was made pending a full hearing of the dispute. It followed from a decision by the PPP General Secretary, Bharrat Jagdeo and its Presidential candidate Irfaan Ali to seek special leave to appeal after a local court ruling and to request the CCJ expedite the case. The case is likely to be heard on 1 July with Guyana’s Attorney General, Basil Williams, contending that the court does not have jurisdiction to hear the appeal. The Trinidad-based CCJ, is Guyana’s final appellate court.

Speaking about the latest developments, CARICOM’s Chair, Mia Mottley, said that the regional body was concerned at reports that Lowenfield had submitted a report to GECOM which was contrary to the directions given by GECOM and which did not reflect the results of the recount process as certified by its staff and witnessed by representatives of the political parties. “Regrettably we have seen a level of gamesmanship that has left much to be desired and has definitely not portrayed our Caribbean region in the best light”, she said.

Similar statements have come from the US, UK, Canada, and the EU’s diplomatic representatives who issued a joint statement calling on GECOM ‘to meet its constitutional duty to issue a Declaration on the basis of the results of the Recount as confirmed by CARICOM, to ensure the democratic choice of the people is fulfilled’.

The Organisation of American States (OAS) said that the election had gone on long enough and called for the process to be “brought to an end, based on the results of the national recount.” “There is a fine line between the right to redress and the use of the courts to stall the electoral process and with respect for the will of the majority of the electorate”, it said.

Earlier in the month, a CARICOM team which scrutinised the recount had said that nothing should prevent the Chair of the Guyana Elections Commission from declaring the results of the recount.

“We are…of the unshakeable belief that the people of Guyana expressed their will at the ballot box and as a result, the three-person CARICOM Observer Group concludes that the recount results are completely acceptable,” the report presented to GECOM stated. It added that “the national recount process …. despite some of its minor flaws, is not an indictment of the 2020 polls and the team categorically rejects the concerted public efforts to discredit the 2020 polls up to the disastrous Region 4 tabulation.

What happens next is uncertain. Lowenfield’s report would normally lead to the declaration of a final result but recent developments suggest that despite growing regional and international condemnation factions within Guyana’s governing party seem intent on determining the outcome to their advantage.

In a further development on 14 June the incumbent President, David Granger, appeared to suggest that a state of emergency would be required to pave the way for the reconvening of a Parliament and the approval of funds for government spending, if the outcome of the recount saw GECOM set it aside the result on the basis of fraud or other irregularities.

“It is possible…I know it has been done before. It is not an option that I would embark on without receiving agreement of all the parties concerned. I don’t think it should be undertaken lightly or arbitrarily,” he told the Guyanese media. “Right now, we are not running on empty, but we are running with very low funds,” Granger said.