Details have started emerging about the National Elections Commission (NEC) decision to reject the nomination of Ambassador Jeremiah Congbeh Sulunteh, vice presidential aspirant of the opposition Alternative National Congress (ANC).
Sulunteh was rejected by NEC on July 7, on grounds that he did not resign his position as Liberia’s Ambassador to the United States of America prior to the passage of the Code of Conduct Act in 2014.
It was based on this reason, Sulunteh complained before the Supreme Court to compel the NEC to reconsider its earlier rejection decision.
The case has already being heard and the court reserved its ruling (opinion) into the matter.
Although just two days to the completion of the NEC’s qualification of aspirants, there is no indication as to when Sulunteh and another vice president aspirant of the Liberty Party (LP), Harrison Karnwea whose nomination was also rejected expected to be decided by the court.
Article 5.1 and 5.2 of the Act provides that “All officials appointed by the President of the Republic of Liberia shall not (a) Engage in political activities, canvass or contest for elected offices (b) Use government facilities, equipment or resources in support of parties or political activities. It also says such persons cannot (c) Serve on a campaign team of any political party, or the campaigns of any independent candidate.
5.2 says “Wherein any person in the category stated in section 5.1 desires to canvass or contests for an elective public position, the following shall apply.
“(a ) Any Minister, Deputy Minister, Director-General, Managing Director and Superintendent appointed by the President pursuant to article 56 (a ) of the Constitution and a Managing Director appointed by a Board of Director, who desires to contest for public elective office shall resign said post at least two years prior to the date of such public election.
“(b) Any other official appointed by the President who holds a tenured position and desires to contest for public elective office shall resign said post three years prior to the date of such public election.
“(c) However, in the case of impeachment, death, resignation or disability of an elected official, any official listed above desirous of canvassing or contesting to fill such position must resign said post within thirty days, following the declaration of the National Election Commission (NEC) of the vacancy.
Article 56 (a) of the 1986 Constitution of Liberia states that “All cabinets ministers, deputy and assistant cabinets ministers,, ambassadors, ministers and consuls, superintendents of counties and other government officials, both military and civilians appointed by the president pursuant to this constitution shall their offices at the will and pressure of the president.”
In his own defense, Sulunteh, on July 6, 2017, while filing his nomination application form for presidential and vice presidential candidates nominated by political parties, alliances and coalitions, the ambassador responded to question #8, whether he served in government and when did he resign, saying he “left government in December 2016.”
That question was mainly intended to establish residency (nationality), domicile (address) and compliance (observance) with the Code of Conduct (CoC) for public officials form.
Also, in his form, the ANC’s vice presidential aspirant said, he contested the 2005 general and presidential elections, as vice presidential candidate on the ticket of the National Democratic Party of Liberia (NDPL), of the late President Samuel K. Doe.
He served as Minister of Transport from 2006 to 2008; Minister of Posts and Telecommunications from 2008 to 2010; Minister of Labor from 2010 to 2012 and Liberia’s Ambassador to the United States of America from 2012 to December 2016.
Defending his form, Sulunteh argued that the CoC is not applicable to him, “because he did not desire to canvass or contest these elections as a Vice Presidential candidate or in any capacity until he was approached and selected by the political leader of the Alternative National Congress (“ANC”), Hon. Alexander B. Cummings, following the end of his (Sulunteh’s) tour of duty as Liberia Ambassador to Washington, D.C. U.S.A in December 2016.
Admitting to the CoC Act, Sulunteh argued that the “Code of Conduct Act is not applicable to him because the Act did not include or apply to the position of Ambassador at the time it was enacted by the Legislature, printed into handbill and published by the authority of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on June 20, 2014″.
Article 51 of the of the 1986 Constitution states: “There shall be a Vice President who shall assist the President in the discharge of his functions. The Vice President shall be elected on the same political ticket and shall serve the same term as the President.”
Article 52 also provides that anyone who wants to be Vice President must meet the same qualification or eligibility criteria as the President.