Council of Churches Joins Call to Have Referendum Postponed

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Archbisop Rev. Kortu Brown, President, Liberia Council of Churches

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.  

6 COMMENTS

  1. LCC, please rethink your call

    So what prevented the LCC and the interested organizations from undertaking the kind of civil education they want? The LCC for example has enormous network that, if it choses, can provide massive civil education.

    I have called several people in Liberia both Monrovia and the interior and what I hear is that they are aware of the referendum. I have seen the largest billboards on the referendum; nothing close on the senatorial election.
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    The issues on the referendum have been debated over the years in Liberia. They are not new. Reducing the term of office and dual citizen were discussed over the twelve years of Ellen rule. The only difference is that she never had the courage to advance them.

    Can anyone seriously believe that the presidential and general elections in 2023 will not overshadow any referendum?

    And what are the issues: reducing terms and acknowledging the rights of thousands of Liberians. To this the LCC says, these can wait, we are not in hurry. Where these not the same provisions that we all cried that Doe injected in the Constitution to make himself dictator. Now that we have the opportunity to remedy part of it, I was thinking that the LCC would be in forefront of providing public education to the effect. But no, times have changed. Now we can have them serve for nine years, six years …, denied Liberians their rights ;;; No hurry. We can wait another three years and during that time, create another excuse.

  2. I too, have advocated in the past for the postponement of the portions of the referendum having to do with the tenures of the president and legislators, for fear those changes could be intrepreted as meaning the incumbents can have a fresh start, devoid of times previously served. And such interpretation could not be farfetched and imaginary, gleaning from recent Ivorian and Guinean examples.

    If the architechs of that diabolism insist on implementing it and no matter the outcry to defer it, there is still another way out of that trap. A caveat recognizing the continuance of terms by the incumbents and irrespective of the changes in tenures of the affected offices, shall apply. In other words, changes to the tenures of the various offices shall not negate any previous limitations on any incumbent. Tenure limitations shall continue to apply in consonance with the spirit of the revised provisions, as if those changes never even happened.

    This idea is extrapolated from somewhere in our constitution, having to do with the inapplicability of any changes in the salaries of incumbent legislators and president/vp, etc. recommended during their tenure. (Don’t quote me on this but something tells me this is in the constitution.)

  3. I want to agreed with LCC, there is no adequate civil education that is going on in the country, it is preferable to educate the citizens on the negative n positive of voting these clause but rather we only see on billboards that vote yes, let us learn from Ivorycast n Guinea

  4. Why won’t the legislators do a honorable recall of the entire referendum – or the most appropriate option is to modify the language on tenure (include a provision which restrict the incumbent from seeking a third term even if the provision is passed by the populace).

  5. I totally agree with the Liberia Council Churches; the holding of the Referendum MUST be postponed !!! There is a need, by law for adequate education. I encourage the LCC to pursue this to a logically end.

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