Into the abyss 

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By Indranie Deolall

The word “abyss” comes from the Greek for without depth or bottom, “a” and “byssos.” With Guyana’s beleaguered incumbent president David Granger and his coalition administration plummeting to desperate, new lows, the latest abysmal public statements from the sly septuagenarian who remains unwilling to relinquish power, must be cause for heightened alarm.

In a short video shared on social media last Wednesday evening, Granger, again signalled he will not go quietly, despite mounting regional and international pressure, by still refusing to admit to agitated supporters that the coalition A Partnership for National Unity+Alliance for Change (APNU+AFC) dominated by his People’s National Congress (PNC) party has clearly lost the elections. The polls were deemed free and fair by respected observer groups including the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and the Organization of American States (OAS) after a month-long painstaking Recount of all the votes cast.

CCJ has jurisdiction

Emphatically ruling that it has jurisdiction, the Trinidad-based Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), earlier Wednesday, quashed the June 22, 2020 majority decision by the Guyana Court of Appeal (GCA), that prompted the Chief Election Officer (CEO) Keith Lowenfield to arbitrarily slash over 115,000 votes from March’s general and regional elections without explanation. The Court unanimously found that the CEO’s June 23, 2020, report was therefore invalid and of no effect, the Court’s president, Justice Adrian Saunders announced in a ten-page summary of the landmark judgement: https://ccj.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/2020-CCJ-10-AJ-S.pdf

The CCJ concluded, “Unless and until an election court decides otherwise, the votes already counted by the recount process as valid votes are incapable of being declared invalid by any person or authority.”

Lifeblood of democracy

“Elections that are free and fair are the lifeblood of any true democracy,” the Court affirmed, acknowledging that, “It is a matter of considerable concern to the people of Guyana that, although General and Regional Elections were held as long ago as 2 March 2020, to date, the results of the Elections have not been declared and the President and members of the National Assembly have not been appointed.”

While Saunders noted that some counsel at the recent hearing wanted the CCJ to make a raft of related consequential orders, he stressed the case was essentially about jurisdiction. He said once the CCJ decided that the Court of Appeal’s order was made without jurisdiction and should be set aside together with the CEO’s report that was based on it, “there is nothing left upon which we would possess jurisdiction to make further orders.”

Having described the central CARICOM team of Recount scrutineers as the most “legitimate interlocutor” Granger went silent for weeks after they issued their June 15, 2020 report as confirming a clear win for main rival the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) and the basis for the remaining formal declaration of the final results by the Chairperson of the Guyana Elections Commission, (GECOM) Justice Claudette Singh.

Peaceable restoration

In his presentation, Justice Saunders stated, “It is for GECOM to ensure that the election results are swiftly declared in accordance with the Laws of Guyana. As Guyana’s final court, we cannot, however, pretend to be oblivious to events that have transpired since December 2018. Indeed, we have had to pronounce on some of those events. It has been four months since the Elections were held and the country has been without a parliament for well over a year. No one in Guyana would regard this as a satisfactory state of affairs. We express the fervent hope that there would quickly be a peaceable restoration of normalcy. Now, the Law must run its course.”

However, Granger, who will turn 75 next Wednesday, cultivates a style of blatant doublespeak that has characterised his contradictory responses since the No-Confidence Motion of December 2018 defeated his government. He told a gathering of grumbling supporters outside State House following the CCJ rulings, “Our party, our partnership and our Coalition are committed to the rule of law. The CCJ has not allowed the position that our Court of Appeal has taken but it means that the matter will now have to go back to the Election Commission.”

Have to be patient

Granger summoned the all too familiar phrase, “We all have to be patient,” charging, “We all went out on the 2nd of March, March passed, April passed, May passed, June passed and now we are in July. It is the first time this has happened in the history of our country and it has happened because there are some bad elements out there who tried to manipulate the vote by having votes recorded for dead people (and) people who had migrated, more votes in a polling station than they had electors. We know all of the faults, our party, our partnership and our coalition has (sic) been bringing these complaints of abuses and irregularities to the attention of the public and also to the attention of the Court.”

The video concluded with Granger declaring to an audibly irate man, “The CCJ could not tell GECOM what to do” to shouts of approval. In previous remarks, he maintained that the CCJ had “made no coercive orders” which “means they have not given any instructions to what GECOM is empowered under the laws of Guyana to do. We will have to assess the situation in which we are in now. The matter will go back to the Election Commission but as far as we are concerned we have evidence that there has been massive fraud and irregularities and we will continue the fight to make sure that your votes are counted.”

Dangerous narrative

It is chilling that Granger, backed by the APNU+AFC continues to openly mislead their loyal supporters, by insisting on a changing, flawed and dangerous narrative, that has moved from his ringing Election Day endorsement of the polls as free, fair and credible to the disgraceful masquerade that ensued with the Region Four Returning Officer’s Clairmont Mingo crude rigging fiasco, and eventually the drastic reduction stunt by CEO, Lowenfield.

Just over a week ago, Granger revealed in a shocking radio interview that he supported Lowenfield’s report to disenfranchise over 100,000 voters, contrary to instructions from Justice Singh to follow the results of the recount which confirmed a 15,000-vote win for the PPP/C. He repeated then, “We are entirely compliant with the Constitution and we have left the elections entirely in the hand of the Commission, we are prepared to abide by the Chairman’s declaration which we hope will be soon … let us await the declaration.”

High Court

Allowing the appeal taken before it by PPP general secretary Bharrat Jagdeo and PPP/C presidential candidate Irfaan Ali, the CCJ slammed “the unnecessary insertion of the word ‘valid,’” in the Appeal Court’s interpreting the words of Article 177(2) (b) of the Guyana Constitution “more votes are cast” to mean “more valid votes are cast.”

The CCJ pointed out that the Appeal Court “impliedly invited the CEO to engage, unilaterally, in a further and unlawful validation exercise unknown to and in clear tension with the existing, constitutionally anchored electoral laws. That further exercise, which the CEO was quick to embrace in breach of the Court of Appeal Stay of proceedings, also had the effect of facilitating a serious trespass on the exclusive jurisdiction of the High Court established by Article 163.

The idea that the CEO or GECOM could, in an unaccountable, non-transparent and seemingly arbitrary manner, without the due processes and the legal standards established in Article 163 and in the Validation Act, disenfranchise scores of thousands of electors is entirely inconsistent with the constitutional framework. Whatever allegations of irregularity attended those votes (and we neither agree nor disagree as to the existence of such irregularities) must be adjudged by the High Court … as was correctly stated by the chairperson of GECOM.”  Full judgement: https://ccj.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/2020-CCJ-10-AJ.pdf

COVID-19 hit Guyana and its battle-weary electorate are back again where this disturbing and far-too-long dysfunctional saga started, waiting once more on the elusive Justice Singh, the divided GECOM, and Granger and his dark forces, to show courage, strength and patriotism, face the truth and do the right thing.

ID peers closely and fearfully at the deceptive characters behind the Guyana crisis, remembering that even in a real pandemic and on the edge of the virtual national abyss, some people never remove their true masks.

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