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President can await court ruling

December 13, 2000

President Arthur N R Robinson may not appoint a Prime Minister until the determination of the PNM’s impending High Court action against Winston "Gypsy" Peters and Bill Chaitan.

The two UNC candidates won the Ortoire/Mayaro and Pointe-a-Pierre constituencies in Monday’s general election.

A leading constitutional lawyer said that the President would have “to weigh the inconvenience of not making an (Prime Ministerial) appointment and making an appointment he might have to revoke.’’

“He has to balance both things. The President must use his own good judgment and sound discretion.’’

He pointed out that “there is no formula—no provision in the Constitution—requiring him to act within a day or two...he will have to act with reasonable promptitude.’’

He admitted that the current situation was unprecedented and noted that in normal circumstances the President would summon the Prime Minister “today or tomorrow.’’

He said that the Opposition would have to give the President some indication that there was the likelihood of its High Court action being successful before he decides on whether or not he should appoint a new Prime Minister.

This person, usually, is the person who, in his opinion, commands the support of the majority of members of the House of Representatives.

The constitutional lawyer pointed out that one could not say that the “country is without a Government’’ and added that Prime Minister Basdeo Panday and his Cabinet would continue, in the interim, to run the country.

He pointed out that the critical point in the proposed court action against Peters and Chaitan was whether they were citizens of another country when they signed their nomination papers.

The PNM is expected to file the High Court action today.

THE PNM will have to give security for all costs which may be incurred when it files its petition to the court challenging the nominations of UNC candidates Winston “Gypsy’’ Peters and William Chaitan.

Section 109 of the Representation of the People’s Act states that the security shall be, in the case of a petition relating to membership of the House of Representatives, an amount of $20,000.

It also said that the security shall be given in the prescribed manner by recognisance entered into by any number of sureties not exceeding four or by a deposit of money, or partly in one way and partly in the other.

The Act provides for the petition to be presented within 14 days of election day. Once the petition is filed, the petitioner must serve the respondent notice of the petition and the security within five days.

Within ten days after the notice is served the respondent may object in writing to any recognisance on the ground that the surety is insufficient or is dead or cannot be found or ascertained for want of a sufficient description in the recognisance or that a person named in the recognisance has not duly acknowledged the recognisance.

The Act also provides for the trial of the petition to continue from day to day until its conclusion. The PNM will have to present evidence to prove that Gypsy and Chaitan were not properly nominated and elected.

At the end of the trial the court will determine whether the nominations were valid and whether the persons whose election or return is questioned, or any and what other person, was duly returned or elected or whether the election was void.

The result of the trial will be sent to the Speaker of the House of Representatives. The Act also provides that the result from the High Court will be final unless varied by the Appeal Court. There is no provision for the petition hearing to go before the Privy Council.

THE impending High Court action against successful UNC candidates Winston “Gypsy’’ Peters and Bill Chaitan is expected to delay the opening of Parliament.

The proposed challenge to their eligibility as candidates, which is expected to be filed today, could be an obstacle to the two men taking the oath as members of Parliament.

The oath is administered by the Clerk of the House but legal opinion is that the Clerk could use a discretion in the matter given the fact that the election of both men is subject to court action.

Standing Order 2 (1) of the Standing Orders of the House of Representatives states that “when the House of Representatives first meets after a general election, the Clerk of the House, immediately following the election of a Speaker and Deputy Speaker, shall administer the oath or affirmation of allegiance, first to the Speaker and Deputy Speaker and then to the members of the House.’’

PNM’s letter to President Arthur NR Robinson: Dec 13, 2000

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