January 15, 2001

Guyana judge declares 1997
elections null and void


                  GEORGETOWN, Guyana (AP) -- A High Court judge on Monday declared
                  Guyana's 1997 general elections null and void because of fraud and unfair
                  restrictions, but she also said she cannot order a change of government.

                  Justice Claudette Singh ruled the parliament had no right to approve legislation
                  that requires voters to have special identification cards to vote. In the 1997
                  elections, about 30,000 registered voters were not allowed to vote because they
                  lacked the cards, even though they had other forms of official identification.

                  Guyana is preparing for new elections on March 19, as both sides agreed to early
                  elections to quell riots that erupted after the elections. Elections would have been
                  due in 2002.

                  Singh ruled that there also appeared to be instances of fraud at the polls, such as
                  missing ballot boxes from opposition strongholds, but she cannot declare a
                  change of government because there is no evidence that it would have changed
                  the outcome.

                  "It is the first time that a judge in the Commonwealth has nullified a national
                  election altogether, totally," said Doodnauth Singh, who was then the elections
                  commission chairman. "In most countries, they declare a constituency or
                  regional elections as null and void, but as far as I know, a national election has
                  never been so treated."

                  The opposition People's National Congress, which filed the court challenge
                  shortly after the elections, had alleged that elections officials rigged the vote to
                  give the governing People's Progressive Party a second term in office.

                  Former President Janet Jagan won the 1997 elections, but she stepped down two
                  years later for health reasons, choosing President Bharrat Jagdeo to replace her.
                  The government did not immediately respond to the court ruling Monday.

                  Nearly 300 witness testified in the case in the former British colony in South

                  Singh said the court would give further details on the implications of the ruling
                  on Tuesday.