Liberia: Cummings Backs NEC Ruling Barring UP from Contesting Lofa Election

Alexander B. Cummings, Political Leader, Alternative National Congress  

The Alternative National Congress has endorsed the ruling of the National Elections Commission hearing officer ruling which bars the opposition Unity Party from fielding a candidate in the upcoming Lofa County senatorial by-elections.

According to the ANC and its political leader Alexander Cummings, the hearing officer’s ruling, to which the Unity Party and the All Liberian Party have taken exception, vindicates his party and him against false and deceptive claims.

Cummings noted that the complaint against UP and ALP was intended to correct the ‘deceptive message’ of UP and ALP that they “did not sign” the Framework Agreement of the Collaborative Political Parties (CPP) — as such they should not be bound by its provisions — on grounds that the framework document was a “product of fraud”. 

The NEC hearing officer ruled in response to a complaint filed by the ANC and Musa Bility’s faction of the Liberty Party, asking NEC to invoke Section 8.5 (2) of the CPP framework document as a means of rejecting and denying “any application from the ALP and UP to field candidates in their names in any election until the expiry of the 2023 elections, including up to six (6) months thereafter, same being the agreed contractual life of the CPP.”

“Our silence and inaction would have represented this falsehood to be true, to both the NEC and the Liberian people, when not only do we know this to be misleading, but those who made such claims knew them to be false. [We] were therefore forced into a public challenge of the UP and the ALP, which ordinarily we would have decided against doing,” Cummings wrote in a Facebook post.

“Even at this level of consideration and awareness that the ruling is now a subject of an appeal, it still represents an important victory for the CPP, and the Liberian people,” the Liberian politician added.  “I have often reminded my fellow Liberians that we cannot do the same things over and over, and still hope to get a different result. It is time to change so that leaders are held to higher standards of public accountability, and we act to preserve the rule of law.”

In his ruling, Atty. Fomba Swaray, the NEC hearing officer, noted due to the constitutional issues raised as it relates to the complaint, NEC is hereby prohibited from proceeding with any action regarding the endorsement of the UP’s candidate for the Lofa County Senatorial by-election until the Supreme Court considers the constitutional questions involved.

“Wherefore and in view of the foregoing, and to allow the opportunity for the Supreme Court to possibly consider the constitutional questions raised in this matter, the NEC is hereby prohibited from taking any further action on any endorsement form or other documents put forth by the defendant(s) herein regarding the fielding of a candidate until otherwise determined,” Atty Swaray noted.

“It is worth noting,” he continued, “that the Constitution governing documents of political parties are not written at the bar of the administrative forum. Hence, questions as to whether a political governing document is wise or unwise, are best directed at the political parties.”

Meanwhile, ahead of the NEC staff ruling, the Minister of Justice, Cllr. Musah F. Dean declared that there can be no restriction on the enjoyment of constitutional rights, except during an emergency declared in accordance with the Constitution.

Minister Dean warned that while the country is under an obligation to guarantee the inviolability of contracts, agreements that seek to contract away constitutional rights are unconstitutional and violate public policy, “hence unenforceable”.

“The right to freely associate with or refuse to associate with political parties, trade unions, and other organizations, is a fundamental right guaranteed under Article 17 of our Constitution. No contract can inhibit the exercise of this fundamental right,” the minister said. 

“Article 1 of our Constitution guarantees the people the right to freely elect leaders of their choice through free, fair, and democratic elections," the Minister added. "In the process, political parties are guaranteed the right to field candidates; while individuals may register as independent candidates.”

The UP and ALP, in an appeal filed for a review of the hearing officer’s decision to the Board of Commissioners, argued that if NEC does not have the right to determine constitutional matters and rights, they should not have the authority to prohibit rights provided by the Constitution. If the UP and ALP appeal, which has been granted, does not change or overturn the hearing officer’s decision, the defendants might continue their journey to the Supreme Court — making it difficult for the by-election in Lofa to be held on its due date of May 10.

Lofa County has for the last year and a half been without one of its two senators after former Defense Minister Brownie Samukai faced a hurdle in taking his seat.

His difficulty came when the Supreme Court halted his certification. Samukai received the most votes in the December 8, 2020, special senatorial election.  Of the 11 candidates who vied for the Lofa County senatorial seat, Samukai received 20, 431 votes, followed by independent candidate Cllr. Joseph Jallah with 13,968 votes. He and two co-defendants were convicted for theft of property, criminal conspiracy, misuse of public money, and money laundering over US$1 million and sentenced to two years in prison, and ordered to restore the money.

The Samukai case, came to a crossroads after the Supreme Court revoked the suspension of the two-year jail sentence handed against him and his two deputies for failing collectively failed to comply with the high court’s mandate and judgment to pay 50% of the judgment sum, equal to US$573,828.15, within six months of last year. The Court’s decision forced the Liberian Senate to write NEC to declare a vacancy, prompting the electoral body to issue a notice of by-election for the seat. 

Cummings has meanwhile disclosed that despite the complaint to NEC, he is mindful of deepening the distrust and disunity in the opposition community, which will only benefit President Weah, “whose administration has irredeemably failed the Liberian people.”

He however added that he remains optimistic that the alternative to the failed leadership of President Weah that the opposition seeks will change the dynamic in favor of them. The alternative, according to Cummings, is to provide the Liberian people with honesty, which can only be measured by truth-telling, however difficult it may be.

“I remain convinced that is how we will build the new future for our country that we seek — a future of commitment to the rule of law, and away from the ongoing political corruption and thievery that have bedeviled our country for far too long,” the ANC leader said.  “I do not need to acquire political power by dishonor or deception. Even more importantly, I do not need to lead our people if it will not significantly change our country by uniting all of our people, ending the stealing by public officials, providing opportunities so that all Liberians have a chance to succeed in their own country, and remaking our society into a more just, equitable, secure and prosperous one. “

Cummings added that he is not afraid of contesting against anyone for a chance to lead Liberia — echoing the possibility of the UP return to CPP, which might put the former Vice President Joseph Boakai against him for the race of the CPP standard–bearer position. He noted that is how democracy “ought to work” and that he will therefore “fight untiringly to see that this happens.”

“Let it be known: We do not fear contesting against anyone for a chance to lead our people. Liberians must freely and fairly decide who should lead them. But we also have a leadership duty, which cannot allow us to be an accomplice to deceiving the Liberian people either by falsehoods or by breaking promises, in the name of politics,” Cummings said.

The ANC and the Ability LP letter argued that “Section 8.5 (2) of the CPP framework document states that: Constituent Party desiring to withdraw from the CPP shall first exhaust the dispute resolution mechanism stipulated in the framework document.

“If the Constituent Party which has satisfied the dispute resolution mechanism is not satisfied with the outcome, it shall file a resolution to withdraw from the CPP signed and duly executed by two-thirds (2/3) of the membership of the National Executive Committee, it is being understood, however, that a party withdrawing from the alliance prior to the next presidential, legislative and local elections shall not field candidates in its name.”