Representatives of five civil society organizations (CSOs), among other issues yesterday, recommended the reduction of the number of political parties in the country to “at least four.”
The CSO spokespersons, including Eddie Jarwolo and John Kollie, made the recommendations at a press conference in Monrovia yesterday, citing that at present, the National Elections Commission (NEC) has a list of 24 political parties in a country with an estimated population of 4.5 million.
The five CSOs expressed their support for the results of the nationwide consultations on the Constitution Review Process that was held in the 73 districts, in 2014. From that process emerged 25 propositions, one of which is that the number of political parties be reduced to “just four.”
The CSOs are therefore calling on the Senate to deliberate and reach a conclusion on the propositions recommended for amendment by the House of Representatives. This exercise, the CSO representatives said, will set the framework for a possible nationwide referendum in 2018.
Liberia embarked on the Constitution Review Process in 2014 with the completion of 73 consultations held at the national and local levels and the Diaspora (Ghana and USA). Over 10,000 Liberians from the 73 constituencies in all the 15 counties and the Diaspora participated in the public consultations, with 35 percent of those who participated in the process being women.
On August 13, 2015, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf submitted the final Constitution Review recommendations to the Legislature through the Senate President Pro-Tempore, Armah Z. Jallah, to be studied for possible legislative action that could constitute propositions that would be submitted to registered voters for amendment through a national referendum.
“The Legislative Committee on Governance, Judiciary and Elections of the Lower House discussed the relevance of the 25 recommendations that were submitted for consideration. They held public hearings and finally agreed on eight recommendations that were submitted to the Senate in 2016 for concurrence,” the CSOs said.
“Since that time, the Senate is yet to introduce or hold deliberations on the propositions.”
The eight recommendations include: reduction in the tenures of elected officials including the president (4 years), representatives (4 years) and senators (6 years); opening or restricting citizenship to people of non-negro descent; acceptance or rejection of dual citizenship in Liberia; enhancement of women’s participation in national affairs; that traditional Liberians own their own land and be parties to negotiations with investors or concessionaires on said land; that the date for election be changed from the second week in October to the second week in March; that local leaders including superintendents and commissioners be elected; and that the number of political parties be reduced to just four.
In furtherance of the issues raised, the five CSOs, including NAYMOTE, Pentecostal Mission Unlimited (PMU), Liberia Democracy Media Initiative (LDMI), IREDD, and SAIL, also advanced that the Senate through a deliberative process makes its views heard on the eight recommendations submitted to it by the House of Representatives; that the Committee on Internal Affairs, Good Governance and Reconciliation at the Senate take leadership in introducing the recommendations on the floor for deliberations; that a joint working session between the Senate and House of Representatives be held to fully agree and take action on the eight recommendations approved by the House of Representatives by passing a “Bill of Referendum.”
“The amendment of the Constitution through a referendum will contribute meaningfully in addressing some of the governance challenges including dual citizenship, the reduction of tenure of elected public officials, decentralization, and the elections of local leaders,” Mr. Jarwolo said on behalf of the concerned members of the CSOs.
The concerned civil society institutions are meanwhile organizing a series of events to create awareness on the eight propositions recommended by the Lower House to the Senate, and work with the responsible committees in the Senate to get the bill introduced, discussed and approved for referendum before the campaign process starts for the October elections.
The CSO groups are working with support from the United Nations Development Program through funding from USAID.
In a related development, a serious debate on the reduction of the 24 political parties is ongoing at the legislature with the majority of the lawmakers calling for the reduction of the growing number of parties to at least four before the holding of the October elections.
In addition to the 22 political parties that are registered with the NEC, the Commission has again certificated an additional two, bringing the total number of parties to 24.
The debate, which started yesterday with three members of the Senate, including Senate Pro-Temp Armah Jallah of Gbarpolu, Dallas Gueh of River Cess and Nyonblee Karngar-Lawrence of Grand Bassa, called on members to take appropriate measures to curtail the proliferation of political parties in the country.
The three lawmakers noted that while they are in support of multiparty democracy, they nonetheless stressed that the multiplicity of political parties, especially the ones with similar platforms, should lead to the formation of mergers to maintain a healthy Liberian democracy.
“This matter, in our opinion, can be laid to rest when included among the Constitution Review Commission (CRC) propositions in the pending national referendum for the Liberian people to decide,” the Senators noted in a joint communication addressed to the Senate plenary.
They said this will allow Liberians to engage in a competitive political process with fewer political parties modeled after great nations such as the United States of America, Nigeria, Ghana and India.
The senators also recommended the inclusion in the CRC propositions that political parties falling consistently below fourth position in all elections since 2007 form alliances based on the similarities of their ideologies.
The senators want the NEC to prevent the formation of new political parties until Liberians are politically mature to handle issues of multiparty democracy.