Grand Cape Mount County Senator Varney Sherman on Tuesday submitted for enactment into law a document titled: A Draft Law to Give Statutory Effect to the Legislative Continuity Provisions of the Constitution and Provide the Process for the Continuance of Democratic Governance in the Event of Election Disputes.
In the five-page bill, Senator Sherman, who chairs the Senate Committee on Judiciary, Claims, Human Rights and Petitions, noted that facts and circumstances surrounding the 2017 elections, which by law shall be on October 10, “reveal certain lapses in Liberian law that ought to be addressed and cured before elections are conducted this year, and to be used as legal guidance for general elections pursuant to Section 1.2 (f) of the new elections Law (meaning elections for the offices of president, senators and representatives held every six years).”
Quoting Article 46 of the Constitution which deals with the election of senators and their placements in categories, Senator Sherman noted that the intent and purpose for legislative continuity shall be seriously manifested in 2017, when the offices of President and Vice President of Liberia and all seats of the House of Representatives shall be opened for contest at the October 2017 elections; the Senate shall be the only organ of the political branches of the Liberian Government (Legislative and Executive) which shall remain unimpaired and fully operational.
According to Sherman, “this means that the 2017 elections are endowed with political sensitivity, which must be addressed by law; otherwise there could be a serious void in the governance process and a constitutional crisis could thereby be precipitated.”
“I therefore recommend an amendment to Rule 4, Section 2 of the Senate Standing Rules, which provides that in election year the Senate shall not adjourn sine die on August 31, but that the Senate shall remain in session, subject to call by the President Pro Tempore upon short notice, to attend matters of election disputes and to ensure continuity of the democratic governance process in the event that any such electoral dispute(s) precipitates or is seen to precipitate a void in the governance of Liberia,” Senator Sherman noted.
He continued that in that event, and pursuant to Article 64 of the Constitution, “if the void in governance affects the offices of the President and Vice President and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, the President Pro Tempore shall serve as acting president until the void is removed through a final determination by the Supreme Court and the execution of the mandate of the court pursuant to Article 6.9 of the new elections law.”
The bill further recommend that the President and Vice President shall not hold over their offices in the event of any election dispute up to the third Monday of January of the year following the election dispute (Inauguration Day); instead, the President Pro Tempore shall thereupon, and as matter of that dispute, be the acting president.
“The speaker and deputy speaker shall not hold over their offices in the event any of them is involved in any election dispute up to the second Monday of January of the year following the elections in dispute (the date for convening of regular term of the legislature). Instead, a deputy President Pro Tempore shall thereupon, and as matter of that dispute, be the acting speaker.”
With respect to the Judiciary, Senator Sherman’s draft bill is recommending that the Supreme Court should not adjourn its March Term sine die during an election year to help facilitate the timely disposition of matters relating to the qualification of candidates, political parties and organizations before elections day; and in the same line, “I also recommend that the Supreme Court should not adjourn its October Term sine die during elections year, to help facilitate the expeditious disposition of disputes over election results before the date (s) stipulated by the Constitution or the Statutes for the elected officials to assume their offices.”
Sherman then requested his colleagues that given the urgency of the matter covered by his submission and the limited time for this 6th Session of the 53rd Legislature, “we should suspend the Senate Rules, adopt this bill into law, send it to the House of Representatives for expeditious concurrence, and onward submission to the President for her signature and publication in handbills before October 10, 2017. If necessary, I propose that we resolve to extend the current session of the 53rd Legislature so that this bill will be thoroughly considered and passed into law.”
The document was voted upon and sent to the Committees on Judiciary, Claims, Human Rights and Petitions and Rules, Order and Administration to report to plenary within two weeks.
In a related development, the Senate on Tuesday voted unanimously to concur with the House of Representatives on the passage of the Uniform Code of Military Justice of the Armed Forces of Liberia.