Subject to interpretation, NEC rejections set off queue of appeals to Supreme Court
The realities are now dawning upon Liberians (at home and abroad) as it was inevitable that this day or such a moment would come the since that fateful day when the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the Code of Conduct. The infant Code, finally using its teeth, has bitten its first few victims via the rejections of four political aspirants by the National Elections Commission (NEC). But these affected aspirants are not squealing in pain. No, they are barking all the way to the Supreme Court, each with his own case to challenge the NEC’s implementation of the Code of Conduct — and even that is still subject to interpretation.
Some affected aspirants are even questioning the sincerity of the National Elections Commission (NEC) as to whether the process is being conducted fairly void of manipulations. They have described the Code as a “biased piece of law, intended to ostracize others from participating in national electoral processes.”
When the CoC, which bars presidential appointees from contesting elective posts unless they resigned two/three years prior to the elections, was passed into law and its legitimacy subsequently upheld by the Supreme Court, many had thought that it would have been business as usual as the laws of the country have been relaxed or compromised at one point or another, during this administration.
And what many, especially those aspirants caught in the web, took for granted and spoke lightly of is becoming very serious before their own eyes. They thought it would have been business as usual. But certainly this is not the case.
The NEC, at the candidate nomination proceedings on Thursday at the Samuel Kanyon Doe Sports complex in Paynesville, rejected Mr. Harrison Karnwea, the vice standard bearer of Cllr. Charles Walker Brumskine’s Liberty Party (LP), as well as Ambassador Jeremiah Sulunteh, vice standard bearer to the former number 2 man at Coca-Cola, Alexander B. Cummings of the Alternative National Congress (ANC).
The two vice standard bearers were rejected barely hours after presenting their nomination forms to be finally clear or given authorizations as legitimate contestants at the October polls. These two brings the total number to four of candidates that have been rejected by the NEC. Last week two representative aspirants from Montserrado and Gbarpolu Counties were disqualified by the NEC on the basis of the same COC.
They NEC, through its Public Relations boss Henry Flomo, confirmed to the Daily Observer through a telephone conversation on Saturday that the LP Karnwea and ANC Sulunteh were disqualified on the basis of the COC.
He further clarified that this does not necessarily mean that they won’t participate in the October elections. “They still have a chance and that rests squarely with them. They can still challenge their rejection and who knows? Anything could happen.”
Flomo noted that the nomination and verification exercise is a process. These two were out rightly disqualified because NEC was very confident of them violating the COC.
The opposition LP has resolved to engage in a legal battle with the NEC until justice is served. The party has already begun to raise some question about the NEC’s sincerity and integrity as it goes about candidate evaluation exercises immediately after the LP’s Vice standard Bearer, Harrison Karnwea, was out rightly rejected-an information that they initially learned from social media.
LP Standard Bearer, Cllr. Charles Walker Brumskine said at a press conference in Monrovia on Saturday that it was a shame that the party and Karnwea got to know about his fate through social media when the information was allegedly leaked to some ruling party stalwarts. The LP has condemned the leakage of this sensitive information, especially to staunch members of a direct rival party, accusing the NEC of sinister motive.
He described the rejection of his running mate as premeditated and that he was denied even prior to the submitting of the nomination as some people had been informed.
He said that the LP was accorded no due process as prescribed by section 12.3 of the amended COC, which calls for investigation before a candidate can be denied. He argued that the NEC reached out to neither Karnwea nor the party as was supposed to be done with any individual who is under investigation.
The ANC, which has yet to comment on the matter, is expected to do so at a press conference scheduled for today, said Jonathan Dolakeh, Deputy Secretary General of the party.
Karnwea is a former managing director of the Forestry Development Authority(FDA) who stepped down in March this year and announced his exit from the ruling Unity Party few days later, crossing over to LP.
He was later picked as Cllr. Brumskine’s running mate. Karnwea, during his acceptance speech bragged, “I see no ticket deserving victory than our ticket. I see no ticket that can be easily entrusted with the future of this country other than our ticket,” Karnwea said upon his preferment by Cllr. Brumskine to be his running mate.
But this dream seems to be at the brink of collapse or at best, just out of reach, if luck/fortune or chance does not play its part in his favor.
Sulunteh resigned his post as Liberian Ambassador to the United States in February and later crossed over to the ANC. He was a top ranking member of the ruling party, serving formerly as senior national vice chairman of UP. He had previously served as Minister of Post and Telecommunications and Minister of Transport.
Since its passage, the COC has been the most contentious aspect of the electoral process, generating a lot of debate in-country and the Diaspora. It would be an understatement to insinuate that the court of public opinion will intensify the debate as the NEC continues the candidate evaluation, carrying out background investigations as it relates to all of the 14 counts that could disqualify a specific candidate.
These include the COC, the residency clause, citizenship, age requirement, one being domiciled in a specific constituency before s/he can contest a legislative seat; and many more.
NEC’s scribe, Flomo, noted that candidates would be disqualified by the commission if they failed any of these. “So this is a process that the NEC is conducting. We just want the chance to do our work. Anyone who feels dissatisfied could go to the Court, which has the power to instruct us on what to do,” he said.
He said that the NEC will be coming up with a preliminary listing of candidates before the final listing. “By the NEC accepting your nomination and giving you your package does not necessarily mean you are qualified and will be contesting the elections. It only allows us to know who all are coming in and so we began our investigations, which is tedious and time consuming, as we have to ensure no one violates any of our set rules,” he explained.
“So if your name is to even appear in the preliminary listing does not mean you will contest in October. We will still be investigating candidates and anyone who falls short will be disqualified. You can only be relaxed when your name appears on the final listing because that is what we will use to print the ballots. So this is a long process and no one is qualified yet and those who have been rejected could still get a chance but through the legal means,” he said.
Certainly with all these requirements, one could come to the conclusion that there will be a lot of cases coming out of the NEC’s nomination an candidate vetting process.
This means the docket of the Supreme Court will be full with cases as denied candidates will be trooping in for redress. It could get real messy, by virtue of the sheer uncertainty beclouding the electoral process, a situation the Governance Commission and its Chairman, Dr. Amos C. Sawyer, were trying to avoid when it recommended, in its yearly report, to the NEC and other relevant actors to make the COC inapplicable because of limited time.
Dr. Sawyer and his GC received barrage of criticism for calling for the law to be compromise, though this would not have even been the tenth time. Will Sawyer and his GC be vindicated as this saga unfolds? Only time will tell.