The Trinidad-based Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), Guyana’s highest, ruled this week that Guyana’s government was properly toppled when one of its own lawmakers voted with the opposition to defeat the government in a stunning no confidence motion sponsored by the opposition back in late December.
There was nation-wide political controversy after Parliamentary Speaker Barton Scotland had ruled that the 33 votes the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) had garnered at the marathon house sitting on Dec.21 were enough for the no confidence motion to pass and to bring down the government.
Instead of resigning and preparing for elections in the mandatory 90 days, government turned to the courts, arguing that the PPP needed 34 rather than 33 vote to pass the motion as half of the 65 seats was 32.5 so that figure needed to be rounded up to 33 and then one added to make it 34.
But the panel of judges in Trinidad saw it differently and ruled that the motion was validly passed. Government had first appealed the 33 vote parliamentary ruling to the local high court, which had sided with Speaker Scotland. Once it lost, it approached the Guyanese appeals court and won a reprieve as two of the three judges said that an absolute, rather than simple majority, of 34 was needed for the motion to succeed. This pushed the PPP to take the case to the CCJ, Guyana’s highest, and it won hands down.
The governing coalition of retired army general David Granger had been running the country with a wafer-thin, one seat majority since winning general elections back in May of 2015. Like everyone else, the PPP knew that all it needed in a no confidence voting scenario is for one defection. They got it through government lawmaker Charrandass Persaud
Charrandass Persaud said yes when it was his turn to vote, triggering bedlam and pandemonium on the government benches. Lawmakers moaned and groaned, cried openly and pleaded unsuccessfully with him to change his vote.
He fled to Canada hours after amid accusations that he had taken a US$1 million bribe to so vote, charges he has denied on social media postings. Police are investigating the allegations.
“The national assembly had properly passed” the motion Court President Justice Adrian Sanders said, reading for a prepared executive summary. The court had back in May heard arguments from both sides in what is clearly the toughest case the CCJ’s panel has been forced to adjudicate in since its inception more than a decade ago.
The CCJ had also been asked to determine whether Persaud, as a dual Guyanese-Canadian citizen, was legally allowed to vote as those who swear allegiance to a foreign power are ineligible to be a lawmaker. The court ruled that those who are against such should have long filed an election petition to local courts no later than 28 days after results were declared and after MPs were identified and named.
In yet another ruling that the Granger administration lost, the panel ruled that Granger had erred in appointing Elections Commission Chairman James Patterson without any input from the opposition. As required by law, the opposition is required to submit nominees for the position. Granger had rejected three consecutive lists from the PPP. The judges said the appointment “was flawed.”
But as the PPP revels in its victory and as the coalition tries to recover, controversy could loom if the two sides failed to agree on the way forward after this week’s ruling as a series of consequential orders, stemming from the landmark judgement looms.
The courts have given the politically warring parties until Monday to agree on these orders, especially as it relates to the elections chief and how and when the country should prepare for fresh elections as the motion had validly toppled the administration.
The coalition and the commission have been pushing for a fresh round of house to house registration to update the voters list. It is unclear how long the CCJ would give authorities to complete that exercise and agree on a date for fresh polls. With its current timetable, the commission has said that it would be ready for elections after the end of November. The CCJ could compress this as a compromise to both sides.