Editorial: A question answered

“The word “majority” in this context means, simply, more than half. – Robert’s Rules of Order

In our leader of December 30 last year, under the caption, “What constitutes a majority” we had sought to interrogate the validity of an argument posited by some in Guyana that the motion of no-confidence against the governing administration should be treated as a failure since it had been passed by thirty -three votes only in a sixty-five member chamber where, according to them, a majority should ordinarily constitute 34 votes. This argument rested on the thesis that a majority should always be calculated as half of the total plus one that should come to a total of 33.5 members, which would then be rounded off to thirty-four. The then current configuration of seats in the Guyana National Assembly gave the governing administration thirty-three seats to the Opposition’s thirty two but, in a surprising move, one member on the government side, Mr Charrandass Persaud, chose to vote with the opposition, hence the thirty-three to thirty-two outcome.

We were not at all partial to this argument and wondered whether on this basis, the government was lawfully constituted since according to its protagonists, thirty-three was not a majority of sixty-five and hence the government did not constitute a majority of the parliamentary seats. In consequence, as we noted, this would also cast serious doubt on the legal validity of any measure that had been passed in a circumstance where members had voted according to their party whip.

The matter was resolved, at least at one level of the courts on Thursday last when Chief Justice Roxanne George-Wiltshire ruled in the Guyana High Court that thirty-three is indeed a majority of sixty-five and that the motion of no-confidence was therefore validly passed.

The learned Chief Justice treated the contrary argument proffered as one of convenience. According to her judgment, “…if Persaud had voted against the no-confidence motion, the government would have accepted that the vote count of 33 is the majority of all elected members.”

Of greater merit, it appears, was another challenge that Mr Persaud was not validly a member of the Assembly since he held dual citizenship both of Guyana and Canada. The argument was that this was contrary to Article 155 of the Constitution that provides – “No person shall be qualified for election as a member of the National Assembly who is, by virtue of his own act, under any acknowledgement of allegiance, obedience or adherence to a foreign power or state.”

Accordingly, she held that Mr Persaud was indeed disqualified from being nominated as a member of the Assembly on the relevant date. However, this did not serve to invalidate his critical vote in the no-confidence motion since it had been saved by Article 155 (2) to the effect that “The Assembly may act notwithstanding any vacancy in its membership … (even) after any dissolution of Parliament and the presence or participation of any person not entitled to be present or to participate in the proceedings of the Assembly, shall not invalidate those proceedings.”

With this matter now seemingly resolved, subject of course to any further appeals, the way has been paved for elections to be held in Guyana to determine the composition of the National Assembly. And for now at least, we know, authoritatively, what constitutes a parliamentary majority.

Barbados Advocate

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