By Aaron Humes
BELIZE CITY, Mon. Mar. 31, 2014
The fight to unseat embattled Cayo Northeast area representative Elvin Penner took on another dimension this week as People’s United Party (PUP) aspirant Orlando “Landy” Habet and four other applicants filed a formal challenge to January’s disallowance of the recall referendum petition by Governor General Sir Colville Young.
Habet and his co-litigants are seeking leave for judicial review, but no date has been set for the petition to be heard.
The Governor General acted on the advice of Chief Elections Officer Josephine Tamai, whose team of public officers sifted through 2,002 signatures attached to the petition and rejected 337 of them, leaving the petition 79 short of the 30% threshold needed to trigger the referendum.
According to lead attorney on the case, Senator Lisa Shoman, the cited reasons for the rejections – signatories not appearing on the voters’ list for Cayo Northeast, their signatures not matching Election and Boundaries’ official records, and signing the petition more than once, contrary to election law – are not within the authority of the CEO to determine under the Referendum Act and the Representation of the People’s Act.
According to Shoman, they have evidence to support the claim that signatures which were rejected for not being on the voters’ list were in fact listed.
With regard to the non-matching signatures, Shoman contends, “There is actually nothing in the law that says the signatures must match what is in Elections and Boundaries’ binders.
“ In fact, we had one applicant who was in a car accident, partially paralysed, and is only able to write with great difficulty. So it’s clear that her signature could never be the same. Yet she was disenfranchised.”
Likewise, she adds, there is nothing in the law that says they should strike out signatories who signed the petition more than once.
At her press conference on January 8, Tamai repeated three times under questioning from reporter Mike Rudon that such signatories have committed an offence under the law. But asked whether the Department could have accepted one set of signatures, she stated, “You won’t see that anywhere [in the law] similarly to how you won’t see it saying that you accept it.”
According to Shoman, some allegedly disenfranchised voters were reluctant to participate, but four did join Orlando Habet as co-litigants.
Habet told reporters that this is the last best hope for the “disenfranchised” of Cayo Northeast. He added that it was coincidence that the timing of this filing follows on the heels of the commencement last week of charges against his opponent for alleged false statements made in the process of granting Won Hong Kim a Belizean passport and nationality.
The law indicates that the petitioner cannot file another petition on the same subject. So if the PUP is successful the court would likely rule that the rejected signatures should be reconsidered.
If it gets that far, a writ of referendum for recall would be issued by the Governor General and a simple majority would be needed from 65% of the electorate to recall Penner, who would not be able to challenge again. At that point there would be a bye election to fill the seat.