By Joaquin M. Sendolo
The Liberia Council of Churches, a conglomeration of Christian denominations in Liberia, has added its voice to the need for postponement of the national referendum that is planned to be held concomitantly with the December 8 Senatorial Election.
The LCC expressed, among other things in its press release issued late Tuesday, November 10, that there is no adequate civic education on the conduct of the referendum and, considering its many and congested propositions that are yet inexplicable to the ignorant and gullible citizens, conducting it in this short period of time is not feasible.
The pending referendum that President George Weah himself is promoting, mainly using his portrait on billboards, calling for support to change portions of the Constitution, has three congested propositions affecting Articles 45, 46, 47, 48 and 50.
Changes to be made in these articles as called for in the referendum are inalienability of the Citizenship of Natural Born Liberians which calls for Dual Citizenship for natural born Liberians; Reduction in the tenure of the President and the Vice President from six years to five years, and subsequently members of the Legislature; and the change of date of election and shortening of time for NEC to hear electoral complaints.
Dual Citizenship is one issue that the majority of Liberians residing in the country opposed in 2014 during the Constitution Review process, but former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf permitted it to go to referendum when she received the compiled views from the Constitution Review Committee (CRC).
On the issue of tenure of elected officials, the majority views suggested that the tenure of the President and Vice President, and members of the House of Representatives should come down to four years from six, while Senators come to six years from nine years.
However, it is the other way round now; the presidential and vice-presidential tenures, as well as that of the Representatives, is now proposed to be reduced from six to five, and political pundits and legal minded people are afraid that if the referendum is held under this circumstance, where there is not enough civic education, the tenure may be reduced for the President and the Weah Administration may use it to create a third term scenario for President George Weah as the situation currently show in neighboring Guinea and Ivory Coast.
Political pundits say if the referendum is conducted and the proposition calling for reduction of tenure wins now, the President can by law use the five-year tenure to contest election two times while his first six years become a fiasco.
Amid these constitutional and political dilemmas, the LCC says having such a sensitive and critical national issue needs adequate education to get the citizens informed about what decision to make and not to be quiet on the matters as the prevailing situation is now.
“We further propose that the National Referendum be RESCHEDULED before or for the 2023 Presidential and Legislative elections, allowing adequate preparations, sensitizing and educating the public by the NEC, the GOL, Civic society, and other national stakeholders including the religious community, on the Referendum,” the LCC said.
It added further: “As it stands, the Liberia Council of Churches’ engagement with its membership across the country shows that civic/voters’ education on the Referendum scheduled for December 8, 2020, is limited and this needs to be reversed. Secondly, the time to do the required civic/voters education across the 15 counties now, is short; therefore, the Referendum should be rescheduled to a later date to allow for proper planning, community awareness/sensitization, and participation, amongst others. The Liberian people must own this process through their fullest participation.”
There is no doubt that Christians and their sympathizers constitute the highest population in terms of religious diversity in the country, followed by the Muslims.
According to the 2008 National Population and Housing Census conducted by the Liberia Institute for Statistics and Geo-Information Services (LISGIS), Christians constituted 85.6 percent of the population while Muslims constituted 12.2 percent, with others including Baha’i and African Traditional Religion subsets to the two largest religious groups.
The huge number of Christians in the country puts leaders in this religious group in the best position to have serious input in national decision-making as members under the doctrine are spiritually compelled to listen to them and heed to their advice.
According to LCC President, Archbishop Kortu K. Brown, they have had consultations and come to reason that conducting the senatorial election on December 8 is necessary but not the referendum, which needs more explanations for the citizens to understand better before making a decision.
“As a result of consultations within and without the Christian community including the National Elections Commission, Political Parties, and other national and international stakeholders, we are informed and have come to realize that significant challenges need to be addressed to ensure the process of free, fair, and transparent elections, as well as the national referendum, both to take place as scheduled by NEC without hindrance,” said the release.
The LCC, while expressing hope and praying that the Government of Liberia, the National Elections Commission and the entire people of the country will consider its recommendation in good faith, is also commending the NEC, GOL, ECOWAS, the UN, and other bilateral partners including the United States and the European Union, for steps taken to clean the Voters’ Registration Roll and to ensure that the impending senatorial election is free, fair and transparent.
Meanwhile, in recent times some groups and citizens have rung the bell for postponement of the referendum for the same reasons the LCC has cited. It may be recalled that the Grassroot Alternative Movement in August this year called for the postponement of the referendum on grounds that there was no adequate information to the voting population about it.
Also in Margibi County in September this year, citizens called for postponement of the referendum because they were not informed what the propositions were and why they needed changes.