By Indranie Deolall
More than 140 days after Guyana’s elections, the losing regime and its disingenuous leader remain defiantly in power, with yet another brazen legal attempt underway to thwart democracy and further delay the formal declaration of the winner.
Against the background of mounting international concern and condemnation, the besieged administration has become publicly deaf to all diplomatic entreaties and warnings. The caretaker government is behaving as if it could not care less what the world thinks, choosing to isolate itself in an awfully lonely place. It seems hell-bent on facing heightened sanctions far beyond initial American visa restrictions, and intent on plummeting the country to pariah status in the midst of a pandemic, regardless of the perilous price the poor population may end up paying.
CJ upholds recount order
It was just Monday, that acting Chief Justice (CJ) Roxane George-Wiltshire upheld the validity of the order issued by the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) for the national recount of votes from the March 2 polls, in a comprehensive ruling that only those results can be used to make the final declaration, citing the recent related decisions of the Court of Appeal (CA) and the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ).
That same day, the lawyers for the plaintiff, Misenga Jones indicated they would ask the Court of Appeal and a three-member panel of judges to set aside the CJ’s decision, with the latest hearing in the not-so merry-go-round now due for Saturday. Given the pattern of behaviour, we can expect that whatever the decision, the aggrieved parties will end up again before the apex Caribbean Court of Appeal, for another round of litigation by their teams of well-paid senior lawyers from Trinidad and Tobago.
The CJ referred to the legal principle of “res judicata” that speaks to ensuring finality in litigation. Stressing this, she said where there is public interest litigation, “barring a new issue arising, or one that can be distinguished, or a claim that the judgment was improperly obtained e.g. through a misrepresentation of facts or law, or the perpetration of a fraud on the court, an applicant is bound by any decision on an issue that has been raised and adjudicated on previously.”
She noted, “Myriad persons cannot be permitted to engage the court with multiple applications regarding the same issue which has been decided and shield behind the claim that they were not a party to the previous proceedings. To so permit would be to waste precious judicial time and resources. In short order – this cannot be allowed.”
Guyana held hostage
The Organization of American States (OAS) also asserted this week, that it will not support an illegal government with the secretary-general, Luis Almagro declaring that Guyana is being held hostage, even as he appealed, in vain, to the incumbent A Partnership of National Unity+Alliance for Change (APNU+AFC) coalition and its representatives to desist from further use of the courts to delay the declaration.
“I would request that the Court not be resorted to anymore … Accept the recount and allow a transition of government in keeping with the will of the people,” Almagro told a virtual special meeting of the OAS Permanent Council.
Litmas test failed
Former Jamaican prime minister, Bruce Golding and head of the OAS Observer Mission, lamented, “A litmus test of any democracy is the peaceful and orderly transfer of power that is so ordained by the express will of the people. Sadly, Guyana has failed that litmus test. The people of Guyana are not to be blamed. They expressed their will in a commendably peaceful and orderly manner on March 2 but the pernicious action of a few have wreaked considerably damage to Guyana’s image and reputation.”
The Guyana-born representative of Antigua and Barbuda to the OAS, Ronald Sanders, sharply criticised the APNU+AFC for dragging out the election process through the courts, again and again, estimating that the new appeal and “its consequences could take until September 1, before the full cycle of hearings and judgements end,” warning that, “Democracy is being delayed. And democracy delayed is democracy denied.”
On the heels of the decision by the United States to impose visa restrictions on those it deems responsible for undermining democracy, that country’s deputy permanent representative to the OAS, Bradley A. Freden pointed out, “I hope that it is not lost on Guyana’s leaders how swift international support for our actions has been: The CARICOM chair said the entire world knows a small group is trying to hijack Guyana’s elections. Canada has demanded a swift and transparent conclusion to the election process and hold accountable those who prevent it. Brazil has called on Guyana’s leader to respect the popular will. The United Kingdom has begun the process of imposing sanctions against culpable officials.”
“This is not an accident – there is no way to minimize how flagrant the actions of Guyana’s leaders have been,” Freden acknowledged, urging, “It is not too late for Guyana…We call upon its leadership to honour the results of democratic elections and ask all sides to work together to develop new mechanisms for inclusive politics and governance. If stalemate continues, however, it will only be the Guyanese people who suffer.”
A stark choice
“A Partnership for National Unity – and its leaders – face a stark choice. Does it want to be a leader in the hemisphere and a democratic exemplar? Or does it want to be an international pariah? Does Guyana want to have a functioning executive and legislature so it can pass the laws it needs to encourage the development of its people? Or does it want to remain a country whose leaders cannot travel and are subject to sanctions? These are the choices facing the country today. Our meeting today reflects the severity of Guyana’s predicament, and we hope that it makes the right choice,” he concluded on Tuesday.
Venezuela’s permanent representative, Gustavo Tarre Briceño, added to the growing chorus, saying that it is the responsibility of the OAS to ensure democracy is adhered to, and calling for the elections results to be declared.
Turn of events
It was a most remarkable, if unexpected turn of events given that Guyana joined the January 2019 proclamation with 12 other Lima Group countries that the May 2018 Venezuelan election which gave a new presidential term to Nicolas Maduro, lacked legitimacy, as it excluded the participation of all political actors, the presence of independent international observers, and it failed to comply with the necessary guarantees for a free, fair and transparent poll.
Our prolonged election circus has brought us to a most shameful nadir, as we await further inevitable action by key regional and international groupings, and the likely expulsions and disgrace that will ensue with the alarmingly hardened positions by the APNU+AFC and their intention to stay put, come what may.
*ID expects to hear similar local words soon, like president Maduro’s, who reacted to censure, in 2017, by stating the election was a “vote for the revolution” and that “sanctions from the (US) empire doesn’t scare me.