Liberia: Weah Vetoes Progressive New Elections Law



— The law would have empowered the National Elections Commission to find or delist any political parties that failed to adhere to the gender quota. 

President George Weah has vetoed several legislative amendments to the country’s electoral law, saying the amendments were in conflict with already existing constitutional provisions, and other laws. 

The 54 legislature amendments sought to make 30% gender representation mandatory, and give Diaspora Liberians voting rights among other progressive ideas.

The law would have empowered the National Elections Commission (NEC) to fine or delist any political parties that failed to adhere to the gender quotas. 

But Weah, in a communication to the Speaker of the House of Representatives, wrote that he prefers the law staying the way it is.

The President’s action dashed the hopes of many women rights advocates who had for years lobbied for the quota.

“The country is just seven months away from the 2023 general and presidential elections. As such, certain changes in the elections law at a time so close would tend to send mixed signals to the electorates and present the potential to cause delays in elections processes,” Weah said. 

The President's veto of the bill, which comes more than five months after the bill’s passage, can be overridden by members of the legislature, depending on how many lawmakers maintained their previous support for the bill.

Bills passed by the Legislature need the President's signature to become law. On rare occasions, the President may choose to veto — or reject — legislation because of some policy disagreement.

Lawmakers can override a presidential veto and enact bills into law by mustering two-thirds of votes in both chambers — the House of Representatives and the Senate. But for now, it is unclear if the House and Senate would attempt to override the veto.  If they do not, the President's veto would be sustained.

Weah also noted that he could not accept the amendments when there are existing laws that provide for checks and balances regarding the scrutiny of persons to serve as commissioners of the country’s electoral body.

The President’s veto also means that Elections Commissioners would not be forced to retire as a result of reaching 70 years of age, even if their tenure had not expired.

“The period within which a commissioner would become statutorily ineligible to serve as a commissioner is already addressed, limiting a commissioner’s tenure to a maximum of two terms.

“The existing section 2.10 of the Elections Law already provides for proper administrative functions and supervision within the NEC and that the country is about seven months away from the 2023 General Elections, and such administrative changes should be considered in a non-election year.”

The president's veto, which also cancels the election of magistrates, says the existing election adequately captures the roles of magistrates.

“Also, article 83(c) of the 1986 Constitution gives the NEC thirty days to investigate and issue a final ruling. Assuming the NEC uses the entire thirty 30 days, [there] will be [limited] deadline for the NEC to render a final ruling.”

“The dissatisfied party would then have seven days to perfect its appeal to the Supreme Court which has seven days to render its decision.” Hence, election cases should be disposed of before the second working Monday in January 2024, which is the date the 55th Legislature shall first assemble.

“The Presidency is willing to work with this Legislature on ways to enhance the NEC’s capacity to speedily dispose of election cases.”

Meanwhile, the President’s veto is in line with article 35(1) chapter V of the 1986 Constitution of the Republic of Liberia. 

This article grants the President the right to veto any instrument passed by the Legislature. The President’s veto can be overturned by the Legislature by a two-thirds majority in accordance with the Constitution.