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Granger unilaterally appoints GECOM Chair, Jagdeo outlines menu of measures in response

A meeting on the selection of a Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) Chairperson, between Opposition Leader, Dr Bharrat Jagdeo, and President David Granger lasted five minutes, according to Jagdeo, who was no-holds barred in condemning Granger’s unilateral appointment of a GECOM Chairperson, in the person of retired Justice James Patterson.

The third list of nominees submitted by Jagdeo was rejected by Granger. The President moved to appoint Patterson at 20:30hours.

At an emergency news conference, held tonight at his Church Street office, Jagdeo made clear that the political Opposition will now:
1. Move into a mode of non-cooperation – at all levels, including at the level of local government and at the government’s recent invitation for the political Opposition to participate in a meeting on border issues.

2. Move to the court to challenge the unilateral appointment

3. Engage international organisations, including the United Nations.

Jagdeo said, “We will say to our entire support base that they will not support this government on any issue…if we allow this act to go unchallenged, this country will suffer serious consequences in the future. We will lose the freedoms we have fought hard for.”

When asked on the issue of a possible boycott of the National Assembly, the Opposition Leader noted that this will have to be assessed. However, he made clear that the political Opposition will be in the House to cooperate with the Government; rather the political Opposition’s presence, if so decided, will be focused on exposing corruption. “We cannot let them have a free pass. We have to examine that, whether presence in parliament, exposing them in parliament will make a difference. We will be discussing this. But we will are not going to cooperate with them,” he said.

He stressed that the move to non-cooperation is intended to ensure that the APNU+AFC Government is not given a “fig leaf” of cover for their undemocratic actions. “We cannot create an air of normalcy,” he said.

On the issue of a court challenge, Jagdeo noted that this can be mounted, at earliest, by next week. “We will go to court. We hope the matter will be heard expeditiously,” he said.

The Opposition Leader warned that if the unilateral appointment of a GECOM Chairman leads to a delay in the 2020 General and Regional Elections, Guyana could find itself in a Constitutional crisis. “We are prepared to have the country go into a constitutional crisis if we cannot have elections on time. We are not going to cut corners on the fight for democracy. We cannot. Or we will become a pariah state, like we were in the past,” he said.

Jagdeo expressed the hope that the matter will be heard in an expeditious matter.

The Opposition Leader, on international engagements said, “We will be engaging the international community on this matter.”

He added, “…if you read President Carter’s book, he said when he came to Guyana, there were three tasks – a credible list, having votes counted at the place of poll and an independent, impartial elections commission.”

“…the President, at the beginning, knew that he was going to make a unilateral decision. But he went through this to seem democratic.”

The Opposition Leader added that Granger’s unilateral appointment of a GECOM Chairperson reflects the manifestation of Guyanese’s worst fears.

“On a night that we should be celebrating Diwali, the triumph of light over darkness, we have witnessed a unilateral and undemocratic decision – a dark shadow is now over our country,” he said.

Jagdeo added, “…we have indicated in the past, given the excuses by the President, that this was a charade, all a smokescreen. The President has already decided on a course of action – based on his own, unique view – all in the face of the court’s ruling.”

The Opposition Leader added that the timeline of tonight’s events expose the manner in which that the government operates. “The entire timeline exposes the government’s modus operandi, to do things in the dark and impose decisions on the Guyanese people,” he said.

The meeting with Granger and Jagdeo was set for 18:00hours. After the five-minute engagement, where Granger stated that he is moving toward a unilateral appointment, the President moved to make the appointment at 20:30 hours.

“This government will not have our cooperation on any issue, until they comply with the Constitution…he is acting in bad faith…everything we agreed to in the past (meetings) had to be cloaked in the provisions of the Constitution,” Jagdeo stressed.
The Opposition Leader referred to the June 12, 2017 – the last meeting with Granger – and stated that there was an agreement on what would be the way forward, if the third list was rejected.

The June 12, 2017 joint statement said: “It was also agreed that a high-level team would be assembled representing the President and the Leader of the Opposition which will begin to work immediately on exploring modalities to bring a resolution to this matter in the event that the list is rejected.”

All considered, Jagdeo said, “This President is untrustworthy. You cannot take anything he says at face value. He and his minions have lied to this country…he lied, when he said, should the third list be rejected, we will work collaboratively to come to a resolution. At the heart of this presidency are lies and a sinister nature.”

The Opposition Leader also disclosed that Granger was informed that he was acting illegally, including in light of the Chief Justice’s ruling.

The President had expressed three contentions in the past: 1) that the nominees must be judges, former judges or persons eligible to be judges in Guyana or in the Commonwealth; 2) the every member on the list of nominees must be acceptable to him before he proceeds to choose a Chairman; and 3) that he is not required to give a reason for rejecting the list of nominee.

Jagdeo made clear that these three contentions were the subject of the Chief Justice’s ruling.
• The answers to the questions posed, according to the Chief Justice’s ruling, are:

• Whether the list of persons for appointment as Chairman of the Elections Commission required to be submitted by the Leader of the Opposition under the said Article 161 (2) must include a judge, former judge or a person qualified to be a judge. The answer to this question is hereby declared in the negative – No.

• Whether the President is required under the Constitution to state reasons for deeming each of the six names on the list submitted by (sic) the President as unacceptable. The answer is hereby declared to be in the positive – Yes.

• Whether a fact finding by the President that any one or more persons is not a fit and proper person renders the entire list as unacceptable. It is hereby declared that the answer is in the negative – No.

The Opposition Leader made clear that the Chief Justice’s ruling was clear.

He said, “The Constitution says that the names must originate from the Leader of the Opposition. In this case, the President has picked his own nominee….it is a unilateral appointment. I pointed out that when the formula (of GECOM’s composition) was put in place, it was to maintain a delicate balance at GECOM….he is unilaterally picking the person. That is an illegal act on his part.”

Relative to the issue of the proviso, the Chief Justice has said that three lists have been submitted, so the matter is academic and does not apply to the current situation, according to him.

The matter of the proviso arose during the proceedings, based on submissions by the Guyana Bar Association.

The Chief Justice in her ruling said: “While the applicant has not applied for a determination of this issue, it was raised by the Bar Association in its brief which was filed and served on all parties. It was submitted that the Constitution only contemplates the submission of one list. Neither the Attorney General nor the Leader of the Opposition sought to address this issue. For completeness, since it was raised, I have decision to mention it more so because, as noted above, it speaks to the issue of why reasons for rejection of anyone listed or the entire list are important. It does appear, as canvassed by the Bar Association, that Article 161 (2) dos not contemplate the submission of more than one list…It does appear to me that failure to submit a list as provided for speaks to the provision of an acceptable list, as discussed earlier. If by not choosing any of the persons listed the President thereby find the list unacceptable, the proviso to Article 161 (2) would apply and the President should then go on to appoint a judge or former judge or person who would qualify for appointment as a judge in Guyana or the Commonwealth to the post of Chairman of GECOM. But all of this in in effect academic because more than one list has been sought and provide.

Jagdeo called the 10-month delay in appointing a GECOM Chairperson a charade, on Granger’s part.

He said, “I believe that this was this intention at the beginning. The charade of -month having three lists, 18 names, was an attempt to frustrate me to the point that I would say that I am not submitting more names.

“Since he has failed to frustrate me, there has to be a time when the charade ends. He has decided to end this charade now. He has been engaged in a charade over the past 10 months.

Jagdeo pointed out that Granger despite indicating that he wants to have a younger person appointed to the post, he moves to appoint Patterson – an 84-year-old. He said, “Even retired Justice Patterson’s qualifications do not represent the criteria Granger, himself, set out – including that the names I nominated must have electoral knowledge….the nominees are more qualified that his nominee. And he couldn’t pick them.”

Asked about Patterson’s ability to act impartially, Jagdeo said, “I will not get into Justice Patterson’s ability to act impartially now. The issue now is that the Constitution has been violated. He works for the government, currently. He works on the advisory committee for the Attorney General. He was appointed him to the CoI into the March 2016 jail break. Granger has handpicked him to do other things before.”

He added, “…more and more, we have to speak about the role that Granger played in rigged elections in the past, given that he admires Burnham so far. We tried to avoid issues like this in the interest of moving forward.”

Moving forward, Jagdeo made clear that Granger will be held responsible for the consequences of his move to unilaterally appoint a GECOM Chairperson.

He said, “The President will be held responsible for what happens next. Freedom for all people of Guyana is what is at stake. He will responsible for all the consequences for taking this…this will affect investment climate, prospects for all of our people and everything else.

Jagdeo added that meetings will be held with the Party’s Executive tomorrow, with other stakeholder meetings to follow. From these, decisions on further moves will be made, including on the continued presence of PPP nominated GECOM Commissioners at GECOM.

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