– GECOM asks the court to throw a case

Dominican SC Anthony Astaphan

Chief Justice Roxane George on Wednesday heard oral arguments in the APNU + AFC individual election petition after standing, and has set April 26 to hand down her ruling.
But this was not before the Guyana Election Commission, through its lawyer, Dominican Senior Counsel Anthony Astaphan, asked the High Court to throw out the petition, insisting that he did nothing wrong by conducting the National Account using an Order 60 from 2020 – used to carry out the recount exercise – following the “difficulties” GECOM was experiencing.
“Our main cause, My Lady… is that there is no break [of the Constitution] … We stand by our written submissions, fully and completely, that there was no breach … We do not admit any breach at all, ”argued Astaphan during Wednesday’s virtual hearing.
Petitioners Claudette Thorne and Heston Bostwick argued that Order 60, otherwise known as an Account Order, was invalid, void, void, and of no effect.
Order 60 was created pursuant to Section 22 of the Elections Acts (Amendment) Act and Article 162 of the Guyana Constitution to resolve irregularities, irregularities and irregularities coming out of the March 2020 General and Regional Elections, and to determine a final credible account before declare the results of the elections, required by the Representation of the People Act and the Constitution.
Thorne and Bostwick argue that Order 60 and Section 22 are unconstitutional, and as such, the August 2, 2020 statement of the results of the recount, which resulted in a victory for the Progressive / Civic People’s Party led by Irfaan Ali, should be invigorated. as the law did not fully comply with the conduct of elections.
But a GECOM lawyer claimed that there is nothing unconstitutional about Order 60 or Section 22, as argued by the petitioners – a position also held by Trinidadian Senior Counsel Douglas Mendes, representing PPP / C Candidate List Representative, then Leader the Opposition and current Vice President Bharrat Jagdeo, and Attorney General Anil Nandlall, SC representing the State.
SC Astaphan insisted that Order 60 was fully consistent with Section 22 and Article 162, and was not only “transparent” and “in good faith”, but was intended to remove the difficulties that prevented GECOM from declaring the final results of March 2., Election 2020, which at the time was delayed for several months.
“In the face of these difficulties, what was GECOM to do? What GECOM should have done with the intervention of the Returning Officer and the Chief Returning Officer, and the difficulty in getting co-operation to resolve the issue. Literally, according to the Constitution and the statue, GECOM was required to act, otherwise chaos would have resulted, ”argued the Dominican Senior Counsel.
Astaphan went on to dismiss the claim by the petitioners’ lawyer, Senior Trinidadian Counsel John Jeremie, that there was no guidance under Section 22 and 162 for the recount to take place.
He argued, “GECOM could only possibly operate under it [Section] 22 should a difficulty be encountered during the election, which includes, of course, the count and recount, and the request for recount. If there was interference on the part of election officials or otherwise, that creates difficulty for the final statement to be made. Under Section 22, GECOM literally has a mandatory obligation to act, because it says “yes”, if these things appear to it to be necessary or expedient for it to remove the difficulty. “
Furthermore, the Dominican Senior Counsel pointed out that Section 162 (1) envisages the possibilities of interference, misconduct and disobedience by public officials or persons carrying out electoral duties which would prevent either compliance or would prevents the final election process from being declared.
He claimed that, if these provisions did not exist, then GECOM could not have acted in the way it did; but as they existed, the Commission had a “constitutional obligation” to act.
Furthermore, SC Astaphan outlined that even the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) had satisfied, either explicitly or indirectly, the legality of Order 60 for the purpose of removing the difficulties, which they said were “slow but certain drives Guyana into serious social and political turmoil. ”
While the petitioners argued that CCJ had not specifically considered the constitutionality of Order 60 and Section 22, the GECOM lawyer argued that if there had been any issues, then the Guyana apex court would have mentioned it and would not have gone “literally out of its way to stamp the approval of the recount and to Order 60. ”
A similar point, among many others, was put forward by SC Mendes during his arguments at Wednesday’s hearing. He added that there were no objections to Order 60 being used to carry out the recount, and in fact all political parties, including the APNU + AFC, were fully involved in the exercise.

“You will have to consider that the recount itself was done with the consent of all the political actors involved, as the preamble of Order 60 states. But there is no complaint in this case, anyway, that anyone is disenfranchised or that anyone who was not entitled to vote is promoted to vote, ”he said.
Mendes further argued, “You will have to judge whether there was a mock election in the context in which the Court of Appeal itself stated early on … that Section 22 was unconstitutional. That was the background to Order 60 and the recount that took place. And you must at least do against the background of the Court of Appeal, allowing recount under Section 22, except that it may not be under the supervision of CARICOM (Caribbean Community). That is the context in which the recount was taken, against a backdrop of implied, if not expressed, authorization from the Court of Appeal that you could go on. ”
A Trinidadian lawyer argued that it appeared “disproportionate and excessive” to ask the court now to say that the elections, recounting the votes were “in disgrace”.
In the meantime, SC Nandlall also argued in court that GECOM had the authority to issue Order 60 under Article 162 of the Constitution.
Against this background, they argue that the petitioners have failed to present any evidence on which the results of the elections can be invalidated.
Nandlall, in his submissions to the Court, referred to case laws and underlined that Section 22 of the Electoral Acts (Amendment) Act was published because the framers of the Constitution considered Article 162 to be inadequate and needed to promote handling situations like the 1997 election debate.
The Chief Justice will deliver her verdict in the case on Monday, April 26, 2021 at 11:00 am.

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