Guyana in constitutional crisis as election deadline passes

Guyana entered uncharted political waters on 21 March, the date by which the legal deadline for calling fresh elections was constitutionally due following the passing of a no-confidence motion under controversial circumstances in the country’s parliament on 21 December (Caribbean Insight Volume 41 Issue 1).

Amid growing international calls for the Guyana Government and opposition to find a way forward to end the impasse over fresh elections, the Chairman of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM), retired judge James Patterson, notified President David Granger on 19 March that the Commission will only be ready to host general and regional elections by late November following the completion of a new national house-to-house registration process.

Rejecting this, on his Facebook page, the leader of the country’s Opposition PPP/C, Bharrat Jagdeo, said that he wished “to make it clear, that the PPP/C will never accept the November 2019 date for the holding of elections as is being put forward by the three APNU+AFC nominated GECOM Commissioners and the unilaterally appointed Chairman”.

Although the opposition had been insisting that elections be held by 30 April, President Granger had said that it was for the Guyana Elections Commission to advise on when ready.

In related developments, representatives of the Carter Center held meetings in Georgetown with key stakeholders in a last-ditch effort to avoid a constitutional crisis.

In a 21 March statement, Jason Carter, the Chairman of the Carter Center’s Board of Trustees, warned that Guyana was entering “a time of constitutional uncertainty” but that that the centre remained hopeful that the National Assembly would meet no later than 22 March to approve an extension of the deadline for elections, with some reports at the time of publication indicating they might take place in August.

Despite this, at press time both sides remained deadlocked with neither party willing to agree to extend the 21 March deadline which would anyway have required a two thirds majority in parliament.

There are also other impediments to a speedy resolution. The outcome of the December 2018 parliamentary vote is being challenged in the Guyana Court of Appeal and likely to go eventually to the Caribbean Court of Justice for final adjudication, and the President continues to undergo treatment periodically for Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma in Cuba.

To legally complicate matters Guyana’s Constitution has no provision for an extension of government’s life after it has expired.

In one of a number of public interventions, the British High Commissioner, Greg Quinn, speaking at the Annual General Meeting of the Georgetown Chamber of Commerce and Industry expressed concern that in the absence of an agreement, business in Guyana will suffer. “I implore, the political leadership of this country to get together and agree [on] a constitutional way forward for this country. It is absolutely imperative this happens.  If no way is found to move forward, I fear there will be a further and more harmful impact on business and investment in Guyana.  None of us in this room want that,” he said.

Quinn reportedly also called on the populace to gravitate towards politicians who have their best interests at heart. “It is time to look to whomsoever has the best policies and the best plans for Guyana,” Stabroek News quoted him as saying.


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