Liberia: UP Warns of Political Crisis If…

Former Vice President Joseph Nyumah Boakai.

... NEC decision barring its candidate from contesting in the pending Lofa County Election

The opposition Unity Party has warned that Liberia will descend into a political crisis if the decision by the National Elections Commission that barred the party from fielding a candidate in the pending Lofa County senatorial by-election stands. 

The warning, which is the strongest yet from the former ruling party, comes at a moment of deep political tension concerning Lofa County, which has historically been a stronghold of UP.  The UP argued that while the NEC decision is unconstitutional, it comes with serious political implications for the country as they will not watch and allow the electoral body to trample on its rights.   

“The NEC’s decision is flawed and a total miscarriage of Justice and there will be no elections in Lofa County without the Unity Party’s candidate on the ballot,” the UP’s political leader, former Vice President Joseph Boakai, warned. “The Unity Party will not accept a repeat of the Brownie Samukai scenario, during which citizens of Lofa County were disenfranchised. Let the word go forth that the UP and the people of Lofa County have had enough and will no longer continue to be insulted, disrespected, and disenfranchised by the CDC Government of President George Weah.” 

The former Vice President made these remarks during a meeting with the UN Resident Coordinator in Liberia, Niels Scott, who paid a courtesy call on him to get acquainted and to avail himself with political development and trending issues in the country from the UP’s perspectives. 

According to Boakai, in the 2023 Presidential and General Elections the UP will demand for a new voters roll and the use of a biometric system to ensure a level playing field that will guarantee free and fair national elections, the best guarantor of peace and national reconciliation.

The UP, in collaboration with other parties — the Alternative National Congress, the Liberty Party, and the All Liberian Party — won Lofa County during the 2020 mid-term senatorial election under the banner of the Collaborating Political Parties. But it has been two years since that election and Lofa County has remained without one of its two senators. The Senator-elect, Brownie Samukai, faced a hurdle in taking his seat. 

His difficulty came when the Supreme Court halted his certification as a result of his conviction, along with two co-defendants, for the theft of more than US$1 million. He was then sentenced to two years in prison, and ordered to restore the money; however, his case reached a fork in the road when the Supreme Court revoked the suspension of the two-year prison sentence imposed on him and his two deputies for collectively failing to comply with the high court's mandate and judgment to pay 50 percent of the judgment sum, equal to US$573,828.15, within six months of last year. 

The Court’s decision compelled the Liberian Senate to write the NEC to declare a vacancy, prompting the electoral body to organize a by-election to fill the seat.

However, the UP has been warned not to field a candidate in the upcoming Lofa County senatorial by-election. The warning comes as NEC reaffirms its hearing officer's ruling which bars the opposition from fielding a candidate. 

“Wherefore and in view of the foregoing, the appeal of the UP/ALP is hereby denied and the decision of the hearing office affirmed. We agree with the hearing officer that the framers of the Constitution, as well as the elections law, did not compel political parties to submit their governing documents to the NEC simply as a mere formality,” NEC Board of Commissioners said.

“We note that the hearing officer did not err. A notarized framework is valid until proven illegal or invalid," the Board added. "The law provides that we take evidence before referring a matter to the Supreme Court. We further found that there is no merit in the defendant’s bill of exception to dismiss the complaint.”

The board ruling surrounds the guarantee of the inviolability of political parties, leaving the Supreme Court to determine whether agreements that seek to contract away constitutional rights are unconstitutional.   Any ruling from the High Court, depending on how it goes, will forever reshape the country’s political landscape — particularly issues that have to do with the legality of political alliances established by framework or contractual documents, the rights of NEC to enforce agreements between political parties.

The Supreme Court is expected to hear arguments on the matter once lawyers for UP and ALP have filed their appeals.

The NEC ruling was in response to a complaint filed by the Alternative National Congress 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.”

But UP and ALP have argued that they cannot be bound by the CPP Agreement because they did not sign the CPP agreement filed with the NEC, and that same is a product of fraud.

The complaint by ANC and Bility’s LP faction came after the UP and the ALP both withdrew from the CPP on allegations that the CPP Framework Document was tampered with by the political leader of the ANC, Alexander Cummings — an allegation he has denied.  The ANC the Musa Bility 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.”