Article by Sir Ronald Sanders
Friday, June 26, 2020 —
(The writer is Ambassador of Antigua and Barbuda to the United States and the Organisation of American States. He is also a Senior Fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies at the University of London and at Massey College in the University of Toronto. The views expressed are entirely his own)
There have been unhelpful and destructive attacks by leading members and zealous supporters of the APNU-AFC caretaker government in Guyana against all with whose position they disagree. The targets are international organisations, CARICOM Heads of Government, other governments that have been major partners with Guyana and their diplomatic representatives.
All these institutions, governments and their representatives have urged that the political parties in Guyana accept an undertaking they solemnly gave. That undertaking was to accept a national recount of the votes cast at the March 2 general elections as the basis for the election result.
Apart from its paid lobbyist in Washington, DC, Bart Fisher, who succeeded in printing an Opinion in the obscure publication, Washington Examiner, research has not revealed any credible supporters of the belligerent stand that APNU-AFC has adopted of rejecting the national recount which President David Granger helped to initiate and to which he said he would be bound.
The APNU-AFC stand is unfortunate. The party, or at least its two main components, the Peoples National Congress and the Working Peoples Alliance, have legitimate places in the political life of Guyana. These are places that should be preserved, because every country needs political parties that offer ideas for good governance and hold themselves ready to form a government at the will of the people as expressed at the ballot box. These parties also need the recognition of the Caribbean and international community that they are democratic entities, prepared to advance their ideas vigorously and ready to accept the judgement of the electorates.
They squander the respect and the encouragement of the regional and international community when they resort to slurs and calumny against Heads of Government and institutions as the only defence for refusing to accept a transparent and fully supervised recount that does not suit them.
The recent assaults on Barbados’ Prime Minister, Mia Mottley, as Chair of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) is loathsome. Ms Mottley carried out her duty to member states of CARICOM, including the nation of Guyana and to the Charter of Civil Society of which Guyana is a signatory. She expressed “sadness” over events in Guyana that have caused the result of an election, held on March 2, not to be declared more than three months later, and she repeated that the report of the CARICOM scrutineers “reflects the result of the recount process as certified by the very staff of the Guyana Elections Commission and witnessed by representatives of political parties”.
Nothing Prime Minister Mottley said was untrue. Therefore, it is distressing that President Granger’s party was encouraged to say that her statement “appears to be designed to exert undue pressure on the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ)”. To impute to Prime Minister Mottley such a disreputable motive is unacceptable and unjust.
The CCJ has been brought into this matter as Guyana’s final appellate Court. The opposition, Peoples Progressive Party (PPC/C) and others are appealing a decision of the Guyana Court of Appeal, which ordered an interpretation of the words ‘more valid votes are cast’ and a stay of its decision for three days. The applicants claim that the decision was wrong for many reasons, including that the Court of Appeal did not have the jurisdiction to hear and determine the Notice of Motion. The APNU-AFC has been adamant that the CCJ has no jurisdiction to hear the case, claiming that the Guyana Court of Appeal’s decision is final.
Not content with making legal arguments to the CCJ to establish their case, zealots of the APNU-AFC turned to broadening their attacks to include the President of the CCJ, Adrian Saunders. In a webpage constructed for political propaganda with an undisclosed writer, they claim that St Vincent and the Grenadines’ Prime Minister, Ralph Gonsalves, the longest serving Head of Government in the region who led his country to election to a non-permanent seat of the UN Security Council, is biased against them and that Justice Saunders will be influenced by his friendship with Gonsalves to rule against the APNU-AFC surrogate in the case.
The attack on Justice Saunders is reprehensible as it is baseless. In the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court, Saunders twice found against cases in which Gonsalves was the lead attorney. Further, Saunders’ judicial independence is recognised internationally, including by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime on whose advisory board he serves. Justice Saunders will also be accompanied in the hearing by at least five other distinguished judges whose reputations are equally untainted.
Fortunately, those who were convinced that the judges of the Guyana Court of Appeal were compromised by familial and other links, did not similarly indulge in casting aspersions on their judicial integrity.
Luis Almagro, the Secretary-General of the Organisation of American States, summed up this sorry tale when he declared: “It is undeniable that this election has gone on long enough. The process in Guyana must be brought to an end, based on the results of the national recount, and with respect for the will of the majority of the electorate”.
The justices of the CCJ offer that conclusive opportunity. They held a lengthy case management session on June 25, with all the parties concerned except the Chief Elections Officer, Keith Lowenfield, who discarded the CARICOM report of the recount and invalidated more than 115, 000 votes. He chose not to make a submission or be represented by counsel, and therefore not to be questioned by the court when the case is heard. They will begin hearings, after written submissions, on July 1.
The CCJ hearing and, eventual decision, will give the parties in Guyana a chance to adhere to the rule of law, behave lawfully and salvage their own and the country’s standing. They should take it.