All Roads Converge Towards Electoral Reform

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The Elections Coordinating Committee, a network of civil society organizations at the forefront of election observation and analysis, last week Tuesday, August 27, submitted their definitive reform proposal to the House of Representatives for consideration. Malcolm Joseph, ECC Acting Chair, led the delegation of CSO partners to present the electoral reform findings.

Rep. Alex Grant (Grand Gedeh, District 3), Chair of the House Committee on Elections and Inaugurations, received the ECC propositions, pledging the full commitment of the National Legislature to “due consideration” of the proposal. Rep. Grant recognized the ECC for their reform advocacy, which derives from the constitutional right of the people to petition their lawmakers. Going further, he termed the reform initiative as “significant in helping to improve Liberian democracy.”

The ECC is the largest civil society platform monitoring, documenting and reporting on elections in Liberia. Member organizations include the Institute for Research and Democratic Development (IRETT), the National Youth Movement for Transparent Elections (NAYMOTE), and the West Africa Network for Peace Building.

Believing strongly that credible elections increase public confidence in democracy, the network has trained over 3000 local observers in the last eight years. They deployed the highest number of short and long term observers during the 2017 general elections, and have since spearheaded a series of nationwide electoral reform consultations. ECC’s continuous engagements with national government, international partners, political parties, and community based stakeholders have earned the respect of the Liberian public.

While the network accredited the 2017 general elections as ‘’free, fair and transparent’’, it also paid heed to the procedural and legal challenges which transpired. Those historic elections –the first time since the end of the civil war that Liberian authorities were solely in charge of the entire process — along with subsequent by-elections, exposed chronic weak points, inconsistencies and anomalies in Liberian electoral law and systems management.

The ECC presentation of reform proposals to the legislature represents a critical milestone in the electoral reform process. Each amendment proposition is well researched and supported with a clear rationale for its adoption.

Of the seventeen propositions presented, nine involve the New Elections Law (NEL) and six proffer changes to the 1986 constitution. One targets the national Code of Conduct and the last reconsiders the NEC guidelines on registration of political parties and independent candidates.

The first NEL amendment is directed at the composition of the NEC itself. As per Chapter 2 on the Commission is an autonomous body to be under the direction and management of seven commissioners appointed by the president, with the advice and consent of the Senate.

ECC has put forward an amendment that would grant more say in the appointment of elections Commissioner, introducing the concept of a public vetting process. Rather than executive selection, the vetting process would be managed by an ad-hoc committee of seven persons from the Liberia National Bar Association, the Governance Commission, the Press Union, a civil society organization with an elections monitoring portfolio, a women’s organization, a religious institution and the private sector. The committee would then finalize a Commissioner candidates shortlist of nine names for onward submission to the President.

Another proposition calls for amendment to Articles 45 and 48 of the constitution. As they currently stand, these articles specify terms of office for senators and representatives as six and nine years, respectively. The proposed terms are for a reduction of tenure, to five and seven years, respectively – a change in line with the views of citizens across the country, as well as with the President’s own proposition. In the case of the latter, President Weah suggests a reduction to four years for both the Office of the President and representatives, and a reduction to six years in the case of a senatorial post.

The Senate was expected to convene a special session yesterday, September 1 to discuss constitutional amendments presented at the “Special Presidential Legislative Retreat’’ of August 16 an 17. While it is the people who ultimately must resolve — by referendum voting — whether or not the proposed changes are adopted into law, the Legislature has to review, deliberate, and craft the wording of amendments. The final presentation of electoral reform propositions may not be word for word as presented by either the President or the ECC. Rather, the perspectives of both, with input from the legislators, will be coordinated to present precise, understandable and lawful amendments.

And from there, Liberia decides.

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