By Joaquin M. Sendolo
The Supreme Court of Liberia is defined by the Constitution to be the highest and final arbiter justice from where no matter goes anywhere after rendering an opinion in a matter. Though justices therein are appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate to serve for life and retired at the age of 70, the constitutional status of justices and judges allows them to exercise a great deal of independence and impartiality without fear or favor since they cannot be removed by dismissal by the will and pleasure of the President as it is in the cases of cabinet ministers and others under the Executive Branch of Government.
The thought that the Supreme Court should be independent and render an impartial judgment makes it imperative for all Liberians, regardless of political affiliation, to run there without prejudice or concern of injustice. However, this lofty expectation of the Supreme Court seems to be taking a twist, especially with the major opposition bloc, the Collaborating Political Parties (CPP) comprising four major political parties including the Alternative National Congress (ANC), All Liberian Party (ALP), Liberty Party (LP) and the former ruling Unity Party (UP), thinking otherwise how independent and impartial is the Court, having denied the CPP of its request for a writ of Mandamus against the National Elections Commission (NEC).
It can be recalled that on September 25, 2020, officials and members of the CPP marched to the Temple of Justice in a quest to file a writ of Mandamus before the highest court of the land to order the NEC to correct or clean what they see as “Messy” voters’ roll. A writ of Mandamus is a court order compelling someone to execute a duty that they are legally obligated to complete, and it is also used to order a lower court or government agency to complete a duty to uphold the law or to correct an abuse of discretion (www.investopedia.com).
After about a week into the request for a writ of Mandamus, Justice in Chamber, Sie-A-Nyene Youh, late last week denied the CPP’s request, thereby setting the NEC free to continue its activities that have raised eyebrows over the credibility of the impending senatorial election to be held on December 8.
“The CPP is outraged and offended by the decision of Associate Justice Sie-A-Nyene Youh, to decline on hearing its Petition for a Writ of Mandamus intended to compel the National Elections Commission (NEC) to clean up the 2017 Voters’ Roll. While the CPP acknowledges the discretion of justices in chambers to accept to hear a petition or to decline to hear it, we also know that in electoral matters, it is improbable to decline such a petition,” the CPP release issued on October 7 said.
The CPP stressed that an election is a sacred process of democracy and, by Justice Youh’s decision not to grant their petition for a writ of Mandamus, “The Associate Justice also leaves the CPP sadly impressed that the Supreme Court, the anchor of our democracy, is wanting in courage, grievously stricken by a lack of independence, and overcome by external political considerations and maneuvers.”
The CPP in its release further said: “By the brazenness of her decision, Associate Justice Youh has issued a warning to the CPP and the opposition community that challenging the integrity of the current electoral process is an exercise in outright futility.”
Additionally, the CPP said: “By electing to situate herself, the authority of her office and the Supreme Court between the CPP and the NEC, and thereby undertake to effectively shield the NEC from answering to what is truly and unavoidably at the heart of the credible conduct of the ensuing mid-term senatorial elections, the Associate Justice has confirmed to the CPP that the Supreme Court has parted with its sense of neutrality and fairness to decide matters of grave and urgent national concerns. What the CPP cannot ignore, however, is that the decision of the Supreme Court has undermined the credibility of the upcoming elections.”
According to the CPP, its petition to the Supreme Court for a Writ of Mandamus on the NEC did not ask the court, nor required Associate Justice Youh, to undertake any exemplary display of courage in the exercise of the authority and functions of her office.
“Having failed in our repeated attempts to get the NEC to clean up the Voters’ Roll of 2017, and to assure us, by credible evidence, that it has done so; we felt constrained to simply petition the court, through the office of the Associate Justice, to compel the NEC to clean up the Voters’ Roll of 2017,” said CPP in its release.
In 2017 after the first poll in the presidential election, Cllr. Charles Walker Brumskine (now deceased) of the Liberty Party challenged to results of the election and went to the Supreme Court with a complaint of frauds and irregularities, thus putting an injunction on the runoff election. After a month of legal battle between the NEC and Cllr. Brumskine, the Supreme Court on December 7, 2017, emerged with a ruling denying the rerun of the election, while acknowledging frauds and irregularities; thereby recommending for a total cleanup of the Voters’ Roll.
Since the Supreme Court mandated the cleanup, the NEC is yet to tell the public that it has made any attempt in that direction. While taking over as the Chairperson for the NEC recently, Davidetta Browne-Lansanah publicly declared that before the senatorial election in December, her institution will have cleaned the voters’ roll and will ensure that there is credible election.
As the NEC is still in the process of convincing the public of its credibility and planned action to clean the voters’ roll, it began a mobile voters’ roll update exercise in September to regularize status of voters who have changed destinations and to replace those whose cards are missing. The process, again, was reportedly marred by frauds ranging from voter trucking to double registrations. There were reports of violence in Bomi and Grand Cape Mount Counties where trucking and double registration reportedly took place.
With the cleaning up of voters’ roll still outstanding and the biggest opposition political bloc disputing the credibility of the Supreme Court where it could run in case of any legal concern, public comments that have been emerging that the election will not be credible. Moreso, the belief that NEC will do all it can to give victory to the ruling party in line with President Weah’s promise to “do everything to reclaim Montserrado” from Darius Dillon may now be the common denominator for the opposition to hold together.