Liberia: Press Union Election Result Challenged in Court

Julius Kanubah, third from right, reading his complaint yesterday at his party headquarters on 11 street as it was being filed.  

A defeated presidential candidate in the just-ended Press Union of Liberia election filed a challenge with the country's Supreme Court against election results that saw him lose the presidency to his rival Daniel Nyakonah.

The losing candidate — Julius Kanubah — who ran with the backing of officials from the state media outlet, Liberia Broadcasting System, has rejected the outcome of the PUL poll, branding it as “bogus and utterly shameful."

Kanubah’s petition, filed on November 22, prayed the high court to undo and cancel the results of the “unconstitutional elections held by the PUL in Gbarnga, Bong County.”

The PUL, which was founded on September 30, 1964, to defend press freedom and free speech had elected Nyakonah, at its 5th elective Congress in Gbarnga Bong County, as President; Bettie Johnson-Mbayo, Vice President; Akoi M. Baysay, Secretary General; and Julius M. Konton, Assistant Secretary for the Union.

Nyakonah received 333 votes, while Kanubah, who boycotted the elections, obtained 15 votes, with only 2 invalid votes.
But Kanubah, who at the start of the electoral process had raised concern about the PUL election voter roll, later filed a writ of prohibition, claiming that the union and all other parties to the case failed to look into his concern even in the face of an injunction which is a clear violation of his campaign rights to a “free and fair election.”

He accused the PUL’s election commission and membership committee of being biased and refused to subject his campaign to any internal investigation regarding his claim. Yet, he demanded an independent panel to investigate the voter roll claim of being infested with fraudulent voters. 

The writ, which was filed before Chamber Justice, Yussif M. Kaba, named the PUL administration and the election commissioners as well as the Resident Circuit Judge of the 9th Judicial Circuit Court, J. Bioma Kontoe — as respondents to the case.
The PUL administration and the election commission are the second respondents to the case, while the 9th Judicial Circuit is listed as the first respondent. However, prior to the elections, he and his campaign had filed for and obtained a writ of injunction and petition for declaratory judgment at the 9th judicial circuit, seeking to restrain and enjoin the PUL leadership, and the 2022 PUL Congress Committee and the sub-committee on Elections and Inauguration from conducting the just ended PUL Congress inclusive of the elections.

The restraining order further seeks to ensure that the PUL leadership turns over power to a neutral body after the expiration of its three-year tenure, which shall then govern and take the PUL to elections within a determined period of time. The writ of injunction was filed against the backdrop of a “series of violations of the PUL constitution by the union’s leadership and organizers of the 2022 PUL Congress.”

The writ was however overturned after the PUL leadership had filed a response with an indemnity bond, requesting the judge to vacate the writ, which allowed the election to proceed. This angered Kanubah and his campaign who, three days after the election, filed a complaint at the level of the Supreme Court to seek redress. 

“Unfortunately, the first respondent vacated the injunction without a notice to them and without having a hearing of their motion for a preliminary injunction and has failed to serve the petitioner with copies of the respondents’ return to their petition for declaratory judgment, along with their motion to vacate the injunction up to and including the filing of their petition,” Kanubah’s campaign said in a brief to the Associate Justice in Chamber. 

The act of the first respondent violates their constitutional right as provided for under Article 11(c ) of the 1986 constitution, Kanubah’s writ alleges. 

It furthered that the PUL’s current administration violated Article 10 section 7 of the union’s by-laws and constitution, which provides that “whenever the Union is holding elections, the elections committee shall dis-aggregate the voters roll, and publish it in not less than two local newspapers (dallies), and not later than 30 days before the congress.” 

“These mandatory provisions of the PUL constitution were ignored, set aside, and totally disregarded,” Kanubah’s campaign claimed. “Moreover, the second respondent [PUL administration] elected to recruit criminals, MCC workers, students, cub reporters as well as non-journalists and flooded the voter roll.”

The writ then prayed the Supreme Court to “reverse and set aside first respondent’s order vacating the stay order, while restraining the second respondents from holding any election without a hearing of the petition for a preliminary injunction, thereby undoing and canceling the results of the unconstitutional election held by the second respondents and conducted in Gbarnga, Bong County, as if it never took place.”

“Order the reinstatement of the temporary restraining order growing out of Petitioner’s petition and assign the same for hearing and determination, and grant unto Petitioner such other relief as Your Honor may deem just and equitable,” the writ pleads. 

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court Chamber Justice has cited the PUL leadership and administration of its elective congress following the Kanubah petition to determine the merit of the complaint. 

According to the high court, by “directive of Associate Justice Yousif Kaba, the PUL leadership, through its President Charles Coffey, including the administration of the recent elective congress and Team Julius Kanubah are to appear for a conference on, November 23, 2022, at 3 pm.”

William Q. Harmon contributed to this story.