— Says CPP’s writ of mandamus is an unnecessary delay tactic
The chairman of the House of Representative Judiciary Committee, Cllr. J. Fonati Koffa has termed the recent writ of mandamus filed by the opposition Collaborating Political Parties as an unnecessary delay tactic against the pending election that would result in a constitutional crisis.
Cllr. Koffa, former chairman of the opposition Liberty Party and now a member of the ruling Coalition for Democratic Change, explained that the writ from the CPP is not just dangerous for the country as it delays the election, but it also contradicts the call by the opposition block to have the voters roll cleaned up before the election.
Cllr. Koffa, also the Representative of Grand Kru County District #2, was entreated with a petition to run for the Senate in his county in the upcoming election, but he declined, citing resource constraints that come with subsequent by-elections to fill the positions of any Members of the House of Representatives who would transition to the Senate in the coming election.
In the case of the CPP’s writ of mandamus, he said any further delay in the conduct of the elections as it is happening “is dangerous for the country since December 8 is not already the regular date for the election.”
“We need to swear in new Senators in January; there is a window. If we continue to have challenges, some frivolous and some legitimate, that will waste the time of the electorates, and then we may not be able to accomplish that. And we will get into some constitutional crisis,” the Grand Kru County lawmaker said.
Cllr. Koffa added that though he is not pre-judging what the Justice-in-Chamber is going to say, he believes that the CPP’s writ of mandamus will not go anywhere, as it will “fall flat.”
“The writ of mandamus must fall flat on its face. I am not going to pre-judge what the Justice-in-Chamber is going to say, but let’s go back and look at the contradiction. You are complaining about the voter roll to be cleaned, at the same time, you are calling for the by-elections of Montserrado District #9 and Sinoe District #2 to come forward. It does not make sense. It appears to be dilatory tactics because while you are complaining about the clean-up of the voter roll, you cannot also be saying bring the elections back and have it now,” he said.
The writ in questions, which was filed by the Unity Party, Liberty Party, Alternative National Congress, and All Liberian Party (ALP) — the four parties that comprise the CPP — prays the Supreme Court to compel the National Elections Commission, the House of Representatives and the Executive Branch of the government to conduct the Representative by-election in both Montserrado and Sinoe Counties on or before October 28, 2020.
In their petition, the CPP argues that the Legislature, as though gravely unmindful of its constitutional duty and as a demonstration of further disregard for the fundamental law of the country, notified the NEC of the death of Sloh on September 10, 2020, seventy –two (72) days after his death, while in the case of Rep. Youngblood, NEC was notified on September 10, sixty-four (64) days after her death, instead of notifying NEC within 30 days of the vacancies as mandated by Article 37 of the 1986 Constitution.
Article 37 of the Constitution states that: “In the event of a vacancy in the Legislature caused by death, resignation, expulsion or otherwise, the presiding officer shall within 30 days notify the Elections Commission thereof. The Elections Commission shall not later than 90 days thereafter cause a by-election to be held; provided that where such vacancy occurs within 90 days prior to the holding of general elections, the filling of the vacancy shall await the holding of such general elections.”
“In both cases, the notifications were issued well beyond the time frame mandated by the Constitution,” said the CPP. “The holding the by-elections on December 8, 2020 will be in blatant violation of Chapter V, Article 37 of the Constitution, which states that elections to fill vacancies created at the Legislature should be held within a 120-day period.”
In the writ, the CPP added that the NEC’s unilateral announcement without the involvement of the political parties to conduct the by-elections to fill the two vacancies on December 8 “is a deliberate, calculated, wanton and vicious assault on the letter and spirit of the 1986 Constitution and with callous disregard for its consequences.”
“It shows how gravely unmindful the NEC has become of its constitutional duty and the fundamental laws of the country. The pronouncement made by the NEC to the effect that it will conduct the by-elections to fill the existing vacancies in the House of Representatives on December 8 is an act completely without the pale of the law,” the lawsuit said.
“Therefore,” the lawsuit argued, the “Issuance of the writ of mandamus is instructing the NEC to perform its constitutional and statutory duty by conducting the pending by-elections in strict conformity with the constitutionally mandated timelines.”
However, for Cllr. Koffa, the delay in communication with NEC was prudent due to several factors including “resource constraints that may have compelled the House to adjust the elections’ date.”
“We have to understand that even in the context of the sphere of our democracy, there are always resource issues. We combined them together is because it is easier to conduct the process,” Cllr. Koffa explained. “There is no great harm that is going to happen as a result of that. So, to me, it becomes a political question. And when the court is faced with a political question, it generally defers to the political branch of government.”
On the issue of “stay order” of the Supreme Court which paused the release of the final listing of Senatorial by-Election, Cllr. Koffa said if the Senate is not complete “with the election of Senators by or before the second working Monday in January 2021, the 54th Legislature will be incomplete and, by extension, the government.
“It is a delay tactic to keep the country in turmoil,” he said.
The Court, a week ago, placed a stay order on all proceedings and or actions on the listing and or publications of names of candidates pending the outcome of the hearing following a complaint from Margibi County senatorial aspirant, Mulbah S. Jackollie, for having been excluded from the provisional candidates listing by NEC.