Liberia’s history is replete with lack of respect for the organic laws of the land, which is troubling for a country that is still reeling from the effects of bad governance and corruption that precipitated almost two decades of civil conflicts. This continual violation needs to come to an end, the Elections Coordinating Committee (ECC) has said.
The ECC is a civil society platform that observes elections in Liberia and works in partnership with the National Democratic Institute with support from USAID.
The chairman of the ECC, Oscar Bloh, said at a press conference in Monrovia that disrespecting the Constitution is now becoming acceptable in the country, and this must stop if Liberia is to progress and come to par with its neighbors and other countries in the world.
Mr. Bloh was speaking with reference to recommendations emanating from the Governance Commission (GC) that the Constitution should be compromised once again to accommodate some political figures who are not eligible for the upcoming presidential and legislative elections.
Dr. Amos C. Sawyer, through the GC, recommended to the Supreme Court and the National Elections Commission (NEC) recently that Part V. Sections 5.1 and 5.2 of the Code of Conduct (CoC) be considered “inapplicable” to the 2017 elections.
Part V. Sections 5.1 and 5.2 of the CoC seek to exclude from contesting the upcoming elections any presidential appointees who did not resign from their respective positions two to three years ahead of declaring their intention to run.
At the heart of the controversy are the political leaders of the Movement for Economic Empowerment (MOVEE), Dr. Mills Jones, the Alternative National Congress (ANC), Alexander Cummings, and others.
The Commission also recommended that the pronouncement declaring the 10-year residency requirement for presidential hopefuls be inapplicable.
But Mr. Bloh indicated that respecting the rule of law is the most essential ingredient for holding peaceful elections in October.
“As we move closer to holding its third post-conflict elections, the ECC is deeply concerned about the recommendation contained in the GC’s report,” he said.
He added that the ECC shares the view with many other Liberians that these elections should be peaceful so that there can be a smooth political transition.
The GC’s recommendations were contained in a report, “The Liberia Electoral System,” that was released last February by the Commission calling for the suspension during this election year of Article 52 C of the Constitution.
In the Executive Summary of the report under the caption: “Recommendations for Immediate Consideration,” the 10-year residency requirement stipulated in the Constitution is addressed.
Twice ruled as inapplicable by the Supreme Court in the 2005 and 2011 elections, Bloh said “There must be a pronouncement on this constitutional provision.”
The report further states: “As in the case of the 10-year residency requirement in 2005 and 2011, it is strongly advised that this rule be suspended and made inapplicable to the 2017 elections even if its constitutional validity is to be upheld.”
But Mr. Bloh contended that only the courts can decide whether or not a law is applicable or inapplicable in a given situation. “In this case, the Supreme Court has the legal authority to decide whether or not the 10-year residency requirement for the presidency can be suspended or deemed inapplicable to the 2017 elections,” he said
“The Constitution is the foundational law of the land. We have enjoyed almost 12 years of civil governance and it is deeply troubling at this stage in our democratic development to hear about calls for the suspension of a provision of the Constitution without proceeding with the legal process.
“Individuals and institutions that have issues with the current laws must seek to amend them through the proper legal means.”
Although provisions of the law (Constitution or Statute) may not be responsive to the current political reality, however, the ECC boss said, they remain the laws until they can be changed through referendum.
“To suspend a provision in the Constitution will require a national referendum. In 2011, the Supreme Court handed down an opinion on the 10-year residency clause based on a challenge from a political party on the eligibility of some candidates to contest. The court ruled against the challenge but did not suspend the provision,” he added.
There is a need for a comprehensive review and revision of our elections laws including the need to write a new Constitution that is responsive to the current political reality and can stand the test of time, he noted.