Liberia: Lifeline for Bhofal Chambers?

`Speaker Bhofal Chambers.

As Supreme Court orders, Rerun in two polling places in District #2, Maryland County  

The Supreme Court has invalidated the result of the October 10, 2023, contentious legislative election in two polling places in Old Sodoken Town precinct in District #2, Maryland County, and ordered a new vote in the area. 

The high court, on Friday, January 12, said the National Elections Commission (NEC) should conduct a rerun in polling places #1 and #2 at the precinct with code #27020. The order for rerun followed allegations of fraudulent activities and interference. 

Bhofal Chambers, the incumbent lawmaker and House Speaker who contested on the ticket of the outgoing Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC), has since contested the results of the elections after he fell short of his reelection bid. 

The NEC final results announced in November showed that Chambers obtained 7,919 votes (44.84%), while Anthony Williams (Independent Candidate) received 8,105 votes (45.29%), winning by a margin of 186 votes, defeating the speaker. 

The dispute arose when Chambers’ complaint for a rerun was dismissed by the National Elections Commission’s hearing officer, leading him to appeal to the Board of Commissioners and, ultimately, the Supreme Court.

Chambers alleged ballot stuffing and interference by traditional leaders during the election, claiming that his observers were chased away by the presence of a country devil, a traditional mask dancer used by local leaders to exert power. The precinct in question allegedly recorded more votes than expected.

The high court found Chambers’ evidence compelling and invalidated the initial results from the National Elections Commission (NEC), ordering a new vote, though without specifying a date. 

The court upheld Chambers’ petition, which said the election of Williams on October 10 was fraudulent in some parts of his district, alleging ballot stuffing and interference by traditional leaders. 

“The evidence established that election violence occurred in polling place one and two, Old Sodoken Town, precinct code #27020 District #2, Maryland County, rendering the declared results invalid,” Chief Justice Sie-A-Nyene Yuoh said, ordering fresh elections without a specific date. 

Justice Yuoh also ordered that the decision of the NEC Board of Commissioners to affirm its hearing officer’s ruling, which initially dismissed Chambers’ complaint, “is hereby reversed.” 

But, the justices cautioned the NEC to ensure that the rerun election is under strict security presence. 

This measure, according to the justices, will ensure that registered citizens eligible to vote at the said polling places have the opportunity to fully exercise their constitutional right and franchise.

The decision prevents Chambers from re-contesting the speakership election scheduled for January 15, 2024. The court emphasized the need for strict security to ensure a fair and peaceful rerun. This ruling has created political uncertainty in the county. 

The court’s decision has prevented Chambers from re-contesting for the speakership, which election is scheduled for Monday, January 15, 2024. 

In a decision that surprised Williams and his supporters, four out of the five justices agreed with the Speaker’s arguments that the National Elections Commission (NEC) committed irregularities invalidating the vote.  

It also raised questions for international and national monitors who had declared the election fair in the district. International and national monitors had previously deemed the election fair, raising questions about the discrepancies. Chambers expressed satisfaction with the court’s decision, considering it a precedent-setting ruling. 

The election dispute resulted when the NEC’s hearing officer dismissed Chambers’ complaint, where he called for a rerun in some parts of his district, alleging ballot stuffing and interference by traditional leaders. 

Chambers later appealed to the Board of Commissioners, but the Commissioners rejected his request, leaving him to run to the Supreme Court. 

According to Chambers, his observers were chased out by the presence of a country devil, a traditional mask dancer used in most of Liberia’s rural areas by local leaders to exercise power. 

“The traditional chiefs brought out a country devil and took a siege of ballot boxes at polling precinct code #27020 in Old Sodoken, Maryland County,” Chambers alleged. 

According to them, the precinct in question comprised two polling centers. They further claimed to have evidence that more votes were cast in that polling center than in the regular 550 votes expected at a polling center.