— Says Supreme Court did not cancel any referendum
Solicitor General Syrenius Cephus has rejected claims that the Supreme Court has canceled the upcoming referendum based on its ruling prohibiting the National Elections Commission (NEC) from printing the ballots for the referendum, contrary to the Legislature’s joint resolution and Article 92 of the Liberian Constitution.
Cllr. Cephus, argued that the Court ruling is being misinterpreted, since it did not cancel the referendum, rather prohibited the electoral body from conducting it under the three condensed propositions. He however said that the referendum will be held instead of canceled, since the Supreme Court clearly laid out the terms and conditions for its holding on December 8, 2020.
Cllr. Cephus, who is no stranger to controversy, recently challenged the authority of the ECOWAS Court of Justice which ruled in favor of former Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of Liberia, Cllr. Kabineh Jan’neh, to be instated and paid a hefty sum of money for damages.
“The Supreme Court did not cancel any referendum. The ruling returns to the status quo and that provision is being respected. As a matter of fact, the National Elections Commission [on Sunday, November 22] announced that it has begun printing of ballots including the eight provisions of the proposed propositions,” he added.
Cllr. Cephus, despite being aware of the Executive error to print the referendum gazette last year with the condensed propositions, argued that there will be no gazette publication, even though the Court has ruled against conducting an election under the existing gazette, which, according to the Supreme Court, is a violation of the letters and intent of the Constitution and the citizens’ rights of choice.
“To the mind of this Court, this is a violation of the letters and intent of the Constitution and the citizens’ rights of choice. The court agrees with the petitioners that, should the 1st Respondent (NEC) be permitted to print the ballot papers based upon the published Official Gazette, then and in that case, that will constitute proceeding by the wrong rule,” said the Supreme Court ruled.
Based on this ruling, Collaborating Political Parties (CPP) and their collaborators and the majority of the public argued that the referendum had been canceled since a new gazette is needed to be printed with the eight propositions on it. This by law, needs to take place one year prior to the conduct of a referendum, as the framers of the Constitution envisioned so that the citizens can be adequately informed of any proposed amendment to their Constitution, ahead of time before voting on the amendment.
But for Cllr. Cephus, the government is going ahead with the conduct of the referendum without the publication of the preposition in a new gazette, since doing so makes it confusing.
“Publication in the Gazette will not be followed because, to a large extent, it is confusing. Therefore, each of the amendments will go with a ballot paper for it to be amended,” Cllr. Cephus added.
It can be recalled that the Supreme Court, in a unanimous decision on November 18, 2020, granted the CPP and its collaborators a request for a writ of prohibition mandating NEC to abandon the referendum, which was to be held alongside the Senatorial and Representative by-elections.
The Court decision comes following a writ of prohibition filed at the Supreme Court by the CPP and the Grassroots Rainbow Coalition, as well as numerous calls by various groups, including the Liberia National Bar Association (LNBA) and the Liberia Council of Churches, for the Elections Commission to leave the referendum out of the upcoming December 8 senatorial mid-term election.
It added that the Executive was deviating from the clear language of the Resolution of the Legislature by combining and condensing the eight propositions into three categories, quite contrary to the provision of Article 92 of the Constitution, which specifically mandates that each of the eight propositions be stated separately on the ballots to afford voters the opportunity to exercise their right of choice.
Consistent with Article 91 of the Liberian Constitution, the Legislature adopted a Joint Resolution, proposing a constitutional referendum to amend eight articles of the 1986 Constitution. Contrary to the resolution, the Executive Branch of the Government, in an official Gazette published on October 8, 2019, in “Volume XIX, No. 52”, condensed the eight proposed amendments into three Ballot measures, on which the electorate would have been required to vote “Yes” or “No”.
As a result, the Court said: “WHEREFORE AND IN VIEW OF THE FOREGOING, the alternative writ is sustained and the preemptive writ prayed for by the petitioners is granted. The NEC is hereby prohibited from printing ballot for referendum contrary to the joint resolution LEG-002-2019 of the Legislature and Article 92 of the Liberian Constitution.”
The CPP argued that, “If, for instance, a voter votes “YES” to ballot Measure Number 3, his or her “YES” vote automatically translates into the approval of all the proposed amendments that have been collapsed under ballot Measure Number 3.”
The three propositions include Dual Citizenship, Change of tenures of elected officials, and change of election date. These are the three on the surface with five others hidden thereunder that the electorate would have voted for in a lump-sum.
Also in defense of Cllr. Cephus, Liberia’s Minister of State for Presidential Affairs has called on all Liberians to vote “yes” to all the propositions in during the Referendum.
Min. Nathaniel F. McGill who, along with Cephus spoke at a press conference Monday in Monrovia, emphasized the importance of reducing the tenure of elected officials, including the Presidency.
“People who will not vote Yes to the various propositions do not mean well for our beloved country. Reducing the tenures of elected officials will make them serious to work instead of playing with the Liberian people’s work,” Min. McGill argued.
According to the Minister of State, it is unfortunate that some Liberians and people in the opposition are misleading the public that the Supreme Court has thrashed or canceled the Referendum. Rather, he said that the Supreme Court has asked the electoral body to ensure that each of the propositions is printed on its own ballot paper instead of condensing it as was done earlier.
“President Weah wants to set the record of reducing the tenure of the Presidency and other elected officials. Many people will want for the tenure to increase and not reduce,” he said. “I will be speaking to some of our friends in the opposition that, if you love our country, you need to vote Yes and reduce the tenure of elected officials. One of the reasons we always have conflicts is because people want to stay longer in office. The President believes that the people should always go to the ballot box and decide their leaders.”
Meanwhile, Legal experts have been skeptical about the change of the presidential tenure at this time, noting that if this is done, the certainty would exist that the current President would use this first tenure as a reason to contend that he is eligible to contest for additional two terms in the new tenure that may be agreed upon for the presidency.