Liberia: NEC Accused of Fueling Fracas in Liberty Party

The National Elections Commission has been accused by Senator Nyonblee Karnga-Lawrence of fueling the intra-party conflict in the opposition Liberty Party.

The party, which is the third-largest party in the opposition community, has been split between the Grand Bassa County Senator, who serves as a political leader, and Musa Bility, whose position as chairman is still being legally recognized by the electoral body along with the Senator.

“Let me out the NEC for the unfortunate role it played and continues to play in fueling our intra-party conflict,” Sen.  Karnga-Lawrence argued.  “The problem we have in LP today may not have reached this far, had NEC acted properly within the scope of its rules and regulations.” 

“NEC has not only proven its partiality in the matter but has also raised the red flag against itself. 2023 is such a defining moment for the peace of Liberia,” she said. “We will not leave it to chance. We will not fall prey to the manipulation of individuals and institutions that could be promoting an external agenda.”

Despite Sen. Karnga-Lawrence’s criticism of the NEC, she has disclosed her willingness to heal the party division and move it forward, calling on the party leaders to lead and end the internal rigmarole. 

“In the days to come, we will take specific actions intended to heal the Party and move forward," the Senator promised. "Of paramount importance, those of us who hold leadership roles must take the lead as we endeavor to bring calm to the Liberty Party.”

Both Bility and the Senator have, for a considerable period, been engaged in a tit-for-tat battle that has ruined their relationship. Bility is on record for having suspended and later expelled his party’s political leader, Senator Karnga-Lawrence, for “unpaid dues.” He then assumed the acting political leader position. 

Sen.  Karnga-Lawrence, in turn, nullified Bility’s chairmanship, claiming that her action was based on a report by a Special Investigative Committee, which uncovered that the election that brought Bility to power was “marred by procedural errors.”

She then sought to return the party to status quo ante under the chairmanship of Senator Stephen Zargo of Lofa County and, a few months later, her faction found Bility and others blameworthy for sowing divisions and bringing the party into disrepute.  Sen.  Karnga-Lawrence then moved to expel him from the party along with his Secretary-General, Martin Kollah.

Her latest outburst against NEC comes as she claimed that the Bility faction of the Liberty Party had worked with the electoral body — unbeknownst to her — to correct and resubmit the party’s 2021 controversial constitution as mandated by Associate Justice Jamesetta Wolokolie.

Justice Wolokolie, who is now serving as the Justice in Chambers ordered that in 72 hours, the party’s 2021 constitution should be withdrawn, corrected, and resubmitted in keeping with the Farmington MOU, which seeks to resolve the internal conflicts between the two friends and now political foes. Justice Wolokolie's order was issued on April 29.

The MOU was signed in October of 2021 and sought to ensure that the different identities would be rectified and reflected in the party’s constitution as filed with the NEC.

The two major differences were the power of the standard-bearer or political leader and that of the party chairman.  The party political leader, among other things, was granted the power to formulate policy and procedures to implement the decisions and the calling of special conventions as well as instituting any measures that he/she may deem as necessary to advance the interest of the Party.

While the party chairman was tasked with the role of Chief Administrative Officer of the Party and the authority to act as leader and spokesperson of the Liberty Party in the absence or incapacitation of the political leader.

But the necessary amendments were not done, forcing Sen. Karnga-Lawrence to file a petition for Prohibition against Bility and the NEC — about a year after accusing the former of purposely, criminally, and intentionally altering the party’s 2021 constitution.

Handling down ruling on the petition, Justice Wolokolie ordered that in 72 hours, the party’s 2021 constitution should be withdrawn, corrected and resubmitted in keeping with the Farmington MOU – something that the Senator claimed Bility did unknowingly in secret with the NEC.  

“We communicated with NEC to again formally withdraw the altered constitution submitted by Bility and Kollah, and on May 1, communicated with all the signatories to the Farmington MOU for a meeting on May 3, to ensure that the proper corrections are made in keeping with the MOU. As the meeting was about to start, we received a text message from Bility informing us that he and his team had already worked with NEC to correct and resubmit the constitution in our absence,” the Grand Bassa Senator noted.

“Also, he was informed that NEC has no jurisdiction over our corrections process, and doing it together as a party was in keeping with the mandate from the court, the NEC regulation, and the Liberty Party Constitution.  But there was no response from Bility,” she added.  “Today, it remains a searching question why the NEC is still getting involved with guiding our corrections process despite its guidelines providing how political parties should file convention reports, as well as frown on what it regards as an offense, the submission of false and misleading information.”

Meanwhile, the Senator has disclosed that her faction of the Liberty Party has concluded the process in keeping with the mandate of the court, and has resubmitted the corrected version of the constitution in keeping with the Farmington MOU and the NEC regulation 3.4.

The NEC’s regulation, among others, called for the submission of a political party leadership structure after a convention to be under the signatures of both the chairperson and Secretary-General of the convention committee. 

However, she argued that this was not the case, as Bility was not the Chairman of the party’s 2021 convention and should not have signed and submitted the constitution to the NEC and “still has no such authority to sign and resubmit after the alterations are changed to the actual versions.”

“I wish to state that as an institution that was established to play its rightful role in the building of a democratic culture with its attendant benefits anchored on good governance and the observance of rule of law, we will keep our focus on those values,” Sen.  Karnga-Lawrence added. “With the decision from the Supreme Court, which represents a significant step in the direction of setting the Liberty Party on its proper course, I am appealing to all partisans to cease all hostilities.”