The opposition New Democratic Party (NDP) says it is important that the appeal it intends to file challenging the High Court’s dismissal of the election petitions is heard before Vincentians return to the polls.
General elections are constitutionally due by March 2021, but are expected by December 2020.
The NDP filed the petitions challenging the outcome of the vote in Central Leeward and North Windward in the December 2015 general elections.
However, the petitions were only heard last month and then acting High Court judge, Justice Stanley John, dismissed them after a full trial.
At a press conference in Kingstown on Thursday, Opposition Leader and NDP President, Godwin Friday announced that the petitioners will appeal the ruling of the court.
He noted that some might say that general elections are close and voters can settle the matter conclusively in how they vote and may question the decision to appeal.
“The short answer is, we must know — the people must know — definitively that what happened in the 2015 general elections was wrong and will not be allowed to stand. This will give greater confidence to all that such conduct will not happen in future elections in SVG,” Friday said.
Among other things, the petitioners have alleged breaches of the electoral rules in the way the election was conducted, the design of the ballot, as well as the ballot boxes used.
However, Justice John ruled that there was no evidence to support the petitioners’ allegations, except for bias on the part of Winston Gaymes, the returning officer for Central Leeward.
“We will do all in our power to ensure that the appeal is prosecuted without delay. We believe it is critical that we have a final decision before elections are called again in this country,” Friday said.
“The people need to know that what happened in the 2015 general elections was wrong and that it will not stand. Moreover, they need the assurance that these illegal and irregular practices by elections officials, many of them who are patently partisan, will not be allowed to affect elections in the future.
“In short, public confidence in our electoral system needs to be restored so that whenever there is an election in this country, they can trust the system to deliver a proper result that reflects the will of our people. This is why we must continue with the case,” the opposition leader told the media.
He said that, unfortunately, the history of the case has been marked by repeated delays instigated by the respondents.
“We hope that the progress of the appeal will not be deliberately slowed by the respondents and that the matter will be completed as quickly as possible. I wish I could say to you here today that I am confident that that would happen. But, sadly, I cannot,” he further stated.
“I have learned from experience over the past three years that the Respondent will delay and prevaricate as much as possible. But, make no mistake, we will persevere and push as much as we can to bring the matter to a hearing before the court of appeal,” Friday said.
Asked what can his party do to ensure appeal is heard quickly, Friday said:
“We have no control over the court process. Some other people might think that they do but we don’t have any control over the court process. So, what we do, we make sure that the lawyers prepare the grounds for appeal as quickly as possible.”
He said that a lot of it has to do with having the necessary documents, including the transcript of the trial.
“And all of these things, they have to be prepared to properly to support the appeal and to articulate the grounds effectively,” said Friday, a lawyer.
“So, some of those things, naturally, slow the process of getting the grounds of appeal and the notice of appeal filed.”
He, however, said the party’s first priority would be to have the appeal filed as quickly as possible.
He pointed out that the respondents would then have a certain timeframe in which to respond.
“And then once the matter is perfected, all the documents are presented, the bundles are prepared and presented to the court, it is up to the court, to decide … when they will hear the matter,” Friday told reporters.
He, however, said he is “not holding my breath” regarding efforts on the part of the respondents to ensure that the appeal is heard as quickly as possible. “We are going to be pushing as hard as we can to have the matter resolved as quickly as we can. I am unshakeable in this that this thing has to be resolved before we have a next election, because people are not going to be confident going into the polls with a next election knowing that these matters are unresolved,” Friday said.
“I mean that some of the issues that we have raised, the judge did not find that they were supported by any evidence and so, that’s gives leeway to the election officials if they choose not to basically listen to the complaints that we made based on the same information or evidence that we presented at the trial. So we need to address it and we will do what we can to push it.”