Liberia: Lawmakers Worry about Change to Electoral Districts


… Some Representatives, according to reports, are upset about any changes to their districts and want demarcations of the 73 electoral districts to remain untouched regardless of the recent census. 

Members of the House of Representatives are jittery for fear of losing their strongholds in their respective electoral districts if the looming changes in political borders occur. 

Those changes would result from the just-ended census, which bends lawmakers’ hands to “readjusted” to reflect changes in Liberia's population distribution. This process however tends to cause some consternation, particularly among those lawmakers whose political fortunes, workloads, and communities are to be directly affected by it.

Some Representatives, according to reports, are upset about any changes to their districts and want demarcations of the 73 electoral districts to remain untouched regardless of the recent census. 

This comes as many of them had concentrated their development projects in particular areas within their districts and the exclusion of those areas and inclusion of unknown territories during the re-demarcation or redistricting, may hamper their chances for re-election.

One such lawmaker is  Montserrado County District #11 Representative Richard Koon, who wrote the plenary of the House yesterday, asking his colleagues to suspend the pending district demarcation exercise.

“To delineate or demarcate electoral boundaries lies in the purview of this Legislature. We are presently awaiting necessary data coming from the census or voters’ registration to create the threshold that will lead us to elections in October,” Rep. Koon explained.

“It is in this direction that I am saying that these data that we are awaiting may likely be available six months before the elections and, at the time we will establish a threshold, will be four months to the elections. And I feel that if we are not careful with the decision we made, we will disfranchise our constituents who will not know who to vote for when they get in a particular district that's strange to them.”

Other lawmakers to join Koon’s argument include Samuel Kogar, Haja Siryon and Vincent Willie of Nimba, Bomi, and Grand Bassa Counties, respectively. 

However, Koon’s position, which is already being supported by some of his colleagues, would be a violation of the country’s constitution, which requires the geographical boundaries of legislative districts across the country to be redrawn to reflect population changes measured by a census result.

The changes will be in effect by the time Liberians go to elections in October.  Once the census results are released early next month, lawmakers would begin the process, which will then change electoral district boundaries, favoring some incumbents among the rest.  

The National Elections Commission needs boundary delimitation for candidate registrations for the various House seats that will be up for grabs. Legislatively, before new districts are established, the NEC, after the Census results, will write the Legislature, known as the Electoral Threshold Bill for approval. The last time this happened was in 2011, a few years after the 2008 census result.

The Legislature then set a threshold, which increased the seats in the House of Representatives from 64 to 73 seats.

Koon’s arguments however have been challenged by some lawmakers who think  that such a move would be an abuse of power by lawmakers, “just because the Constitution gives them the power to redraw electoral boundaries after [the] census.”

The lawmakers, led by Franklin Nyumalin, argued that the redistribution of electoral districts is constitutional and, once the census result is released, lawmakers should go ahead in setting the threshold  for constituency demarcation.

Nyumalin, who represents the people of Lofa County District #1, noted that while concerns about the redistribution process are welcome, stopping it would be the worst assault on the Constitution, which might come with serious political implications.

Meanwhile, the House has voted to send Koon’s communication to its Joint Committee on Good Governance and Government Reform, Elections and Inauguration and Judiciary, to report in two weeks.