Chief Justice Roxane George-Wiltshire has ruled that the house-to-house registration exercise which has been embarked upon by the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) to compile a new Official List of Electors in preparation for general and regional elections is legal.
In fact, she held that the registration process is not in violation of Articles 106 (6) and 106 (7) of the Constitution and the ruling of the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), as contended by attorney-at-law Christopher Ram.
According to Justice George-Wiltshire, GECOM is an independent body and the courts cannot tell it what method of verification to use. She said that by conducting house-to-house registration, GECOM is acting within the confines of the relevant laws governing the constitutional body and the court would only intervene if GECOM was found to be doing otherwise.
Ram had approached the court requesting a Conservatory Order halting the continuation of the house-to-house registration exercise, which he contended will clash with the September 18 date for elections. The Chief Justice, however, rejected this date and held that elections should have been held since March 21, 2019, since the no-confidence motion was validly passed on December 21, 2018.
Relying on the judgment of the CCJ in the no-confidence motion appeal, Justice George-Wiltshire said that the regional court refrained from setting a date for elections and instead said that this is the role of the political actors and implicitly GECOM. Since the CCJ did not fix a date for elections, Justice George-Wiltshire said that she was bounded by the ruling of the country’s highest court.
In light of this, Justice George-Wiltshire reminded that the CCJ held that the elections timeframe now had to be extended by the National Assembly in keeping with the provisions of Article 106 (7). Against this backdrop, she refused to grant the Conservatory Order Ram had requested compelling GECOM to hold elections by September 18.
According to the Chief Justice, the judgment of the CCJ did not imply that elections must be held by September 18.
Nevertheless, Justice George urged the elections body to explore other forms of verification. This was after she agreed with Ram’s submissions that persons will be de-registered during the current registration process. Ram had stated that Guyanese residing overseas and those who are away in the interior working but who officially reside in Georgetown or other parts of the country will be removed from the list.
The Chief Justice ruled that it would be unconstitutional to remove such persons from the database. Among other issues, she underscored that this will infringe upon a person’s constitutional right to vote. She explained that unless persons who work in the interior change their addresses during the house-to-house registration exercise or by register at their district office, they would have to return to the district in which they are registered to vote.