February 22nd, 2010
I deplore in the strongest possible terms the press statement made by the Prime Minister yesterday. It was a rambling, incoherent litany of lies, half-truths, distortions, red herrings and bogus interpretations of the law. Mr. Ingraham should be ashamed of himself for talking such utter nonsense. However, it only goes to show how dizzy and dazed he still is after the shock that was administered to him in the Elizabeth bye-election last week.
The biggest of all the lies told by the Prime Minister yesterday was when he said “The results from the January (he obviously meant February) 16th poll declared Dr. Duane Sands of the FNM the winner of the poll and hence the Elizabeth Constituency MP-elect”.
That is a downright lie. The results declared no such thing. On the contrary, no winner was declared. Indeed, in point of law, no winner could be declared by the Returning Officer. He could not declare or certify any final result. He could not do so for the simple reason that Dr. Sands did not, in fact, get a majority of the votes cast. More specifically, Dr. Sands did not capture more votes than the combined regular and protest votes cast for Ryan Pinder. In fact, on that reckoning, it was Ryan Pinder who had the majority of the votes cast in the bye-election because the total of his regular and protest votes was greater than total number of votes cast for Dr. Sands.
In these circumstances, Section 69 of the Parliamentary Elections Act – not the PLP – takes the matter out of the hands of the Returning Officer. Section 69 says that in these circumstances only the Election Court can now determine who the true and lawful winner is after conducting a scrutiny of the five protest ballots in question. The Returning Officer has no legal authority to conduct such a scrutiny. Only the Election Court has that authority. That is not what Perry Christie says. That is what the law says.
That being so, it is a big, bold-faced lie to say, as the Prime Minister has said, that Dr. Sands won the bye-election. It is also a big, bold-faced lie to say, as the Prime Minister has said, that Duane Sands is now the Member-elect. That is simply not true. What is true is that no one has been elected thus far. No one has been declared elected either. The final result of the bye-election has yet to be determined. It is still up in the air. The Elizabeth seat is still vacant. Only the Election Court can straighten this out. Not because the PLP says so but because Section 69 of the Parliamentary Elections Act says so. That’s the law of the land, not the law of the PLP.
It is also a shame that the Prime Minister would seek to denigrate the concept of an Election Court and mock those who would seek justice and truth from the Election Court. Clearly, Mr. Ingraham does not understand what an Election Court is all about. Going to the Election Court is not about trying to win in court what you could not win on the battlefield. It is not about trying to get the court to give you what the people themselves have denied you.
On the contrary, going to the Election Court in the circumstances that have now arisen is all about making sure that the way the people of Elizabeth did, in fact, vote on February 16th is reflected in the final, declared result. It’s as simple as that. Far from trying to change how people voted, we are simply saying that when ALL the votes that were cast are added up, including the protest votes, Ryan Pinder will be shown to have won a majority of the votes cast and on that basis must be declared by the Election Court to have won the bye-election on February 16th.
So, rather than trying to frustrate the will of the people, the purpose of the Election court application aims at precisely the opposite. It seeks to ensure that the will of the people is correctly determined by adding up all the ballots, including the five protest ballots once it has been determined by the Election Court that the five persons who cast these ballots were, in fact, eligible to vote in Elizabeth. In most instances, they have lived in the constituency for lengthy periods. They also say they had been duly registered to vote in Elizabeth. In fact, they had proper voter’s cards.
However, by mistake their names had been left off the Register of Voters or other immaterial difficulties. In such circumstances, the law requires that you vote on a coloured ballot paper, which is then called a protest ballot.
The only thing the Election Court will be called upon to do is to conduct a scrutiny of the five protest ballots and determine whether they are valid. We do not need to win all five of them to be upheld, although based on what I understand the evidence will show, there is good reason to believe we will win sufficient to determine our victory in Elizabeth.
We in the PLP are becoming increasingly concerned about the behaviour of the Free National Movement, which is erratic and bizarre. In the conduct of their public policy, the mantra seems to be to blame the PLP for everything under the sun, instead of taking responsibility for their own actions.
The Prime Minister’s press conference yesterday and the intemperate language that he used add to our concern. I would remind the Prime Minister that the issue at hand is the Elizabeth bye-election and whether or not the will of the people of Elizabeth was expressed at the polls and what was the will of the people of Elizabeth. No effort to try to change the subject will change that immutable fact. We are seeking to determine who the new Member of Parliament is for Elizabeth.
In our view, the evidence is clear that the people of Elizabeth voted for Ryan Pinder and not Dr. Duane Sands.
If the Prime Minister is to be believed when he indicates that he supports the processes of law, then he has no argument with what is about to be done. This has nothing to do with whether or not the PLP can accept its losses. This has nothing to do with bills owed to ZNS or to Bahamasair or to the Election Court. This has simply to do with the Elizabeth bye-election.
In the election, there were those five protest votes, cast on yellow ballots. These were people who claim to be entitled to vote in the constituency and should have voted on white ballots. The Prime Minister in his statement yesterday was attacking these people personally. This suggests that they will be subjected to the most extraordinary scrutiny because they dared to vote in the constituency, a constituency where they say that they lawfully reside and where they were denied the right to exercise their franchise on a white ballot.
The Prime Minister should not seek to intimidate these people and suggest that because they spoke up for their rights that somehow they are breaking the law.
We are concerned about this because it is a continuation of a pattern of intimidation by the Free National Movement and the Prime Minister. I warned about his intimidation during the campaign. I am seriously concerned about the identification of the FNM with a thug culture that appears to dominate what they do in politics. There is no respect for the most basic and elemental aspects of the law and fair play.
How for example can a Minister of National Security not understand that since he is responsible for the Parliamentary Elections process, he should not be sitting in a room influencing the process of the count?
How does a Deputy Prime Minister not see it as inappropriate for him to be in the precincts of the count when the Director of Immigration who reports to him as a public servant is also the Returning Officer?
You cannot on the one hand argue that you support the law and the rule of law and then do violence to the basic principles of law and fair play.
The Election Court that the PLP proposes to convene pursuant to section 69 and which intervention we intend to invoke is being called for the limited purpose under section 69 of the act to certify the validity of the five protest ballots. The FNM will have to file its own petition if it has other issues. In fact, no winner has been declared and so there is no result for them to challenge.
We are bound to accept the court’s determination. That is all this is about.
I note also the question of other challenges that the FNM claims they intend to make to people who voted in the constituency in an election court hearing. This assertion by the Prime Minister is simply extraordinary. This comes from a Prime Minister who said that they would not go to Election Court, that they win elections on the ground and accept the will of the people. The Prime Minister again speaks from both sides of the argument on this. He cannot have it both ways. But apparently, a double standard is acceptable for the FNM when it suits their purposes.
What the Prime Minister ought to do is accept responsibility for the shocking failure of his government by their own admission to be able to certify an accurate register.
As to the issue of debts, the PLP will honour all legitimate debts that it owes. From time to time parties go through challenges with raising funds but the PLP has always and will always honour its debts. As for security for costs, because of other election court cases, Mr. Ingraham is aware that the PLP owes no debts on election court cases. He is also aware that security for costs does not arise in the instant situation.
The Prime Minister and the Free National Movement have made certain comments that suggest that the PLP is somehow fomenting violence in this country. This is ridiculous. As far as we can see, this seems based in part on an incident that occurred on the day of the recount, which has been blown out of proportion and taken completely out of its context. The incident involved the Deputy Prime Minister. We believe that it was inappropriate for him to be on the scene in any event but further, the same charges that are being levelled by his partisans against us on this incident are in fact being alleged by our own supporters against him. But we consider the matter a political one and not one for the law. For the Free National Movement and its partisans to then elevate that incident into some full-blown support of violence is beyond contempt.
We say to the Prime Minister with regard to his admonition on the use of intemperate language: “Physician heal thyself!”
I am happy to take any questions.