ECC Smells Constitutional Crisis in 2017 Elections

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The Joint Resolution (LEG-002 of 2010) that set the threshold upon which the 2011 elections was conducted cannot be the same instrument upon which the upcoming 2017 elections should be held because it would violate the country’s Constitution, the Elections Coordinating Committee (ECC) has warned.

The 2010 threshold process contravened article 80 (d) and (e) of the Liberian Constitution for which the Legislature and the National Elections Commissions (NEC) are again resolved to tread a similar path.

The ECC Executive Director, Oscar Bloh, told a news conference in Monrovia yesterday that the special arrangement under which the 2011 elections were conducted cannot be used for the upcoming elections as it would cause the country to perpetually violate its laws.

But it appears that this would actually be the case as Members of the House of Representatives on September 27 voted not to set a new electoral threshold for the 2017 Presidential and Legislative Elections.

The lawmakers’ decision was an endorsement of a report from the Committee on Elections and Inauguration advising them not to set a new threshold for next year’s elections. That body has written the Senate for its concurrence.

The Chairman of the House Committee on Elections and Inauguration, Representative Gabriel B. Smith, said in his report that on the basis of history and electoral tradition, quoting Article 80 (d) and (e) of the 1986 Constitution, it is assumed that a threshold should serve two regular periods of six years, and in so doing, it would be “lawfully incorrect” and “politically troublesome,” for the 53rd Legislature to prescribe a new threshold on the basis of a census report for which the 52nd Legislature had already passed a resolution.

However, many observed that the lawmakers’ decision has political undertones. Observers have said that the lawmakers are afraid to lose their strongholds should a new threshold be set causing district demarcations to be restructured.

The ECC, however, said in a statement yesterday that it is deeply concerned about this unconstitutional situation. The ECC is a non-partisan professional network of civil society organizations that monitors, documents, and reports on election issues with the aim of promoting transparency and accountability in the country as well as strengthening the democratic process. The committee collaborates with the National Democratic Institute (NDI) with support from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

It said: “We are deeply worried that no decision has been reached between the NEC and the Legislature on setting a new threshold to reapportion districts for the upcoming elections, which is in keeping with Article 80 (d) and (e) of the Constitution.”

Article 80 (d) states that each constituency shall have an approximately equal population of 20,000, or such number of citizens as the Legislature shall prescribe in keeping with population growth and movements as revealed by a national census, provided that the total number of electoral constituencies in the Republic shall not exceed one hundred.

While the ECC statement stipulates that: “Immediately following a national census and before the next election, the NEC shall reapportion the constituencies in accordance with the new population figures so that every constituency shall have as close to the same population as possible; provided, however, that a constituency must be solely within a county.”

But the ECC pointed out that in 2010 constituencies were not apportioned based on the 2008 census report, as they should have been legally. “Rather, the Legislature through a joint resolution in 2010 instructed NEC to set a special threshold, which led to the addition of nine new districts (seats) to the then existing 64 that the 2005 elections produced.”

“This joint resolution, which contravened Article 80 (d) and (e), has expired because it was meant for the 2011 elections; and therefore, this same formula cannot be used for the 2017 elections.”

Under the Liberian democratic structure, representation is not based on registered voters, rather the country’s population informed by a national census report—which in this case is the 2008 National Housing and Population Census.
In view of the above, the ECC calls on the Legislature to convene a special session to set a new threshold based on the 2008 nationwide census report.

The ECC added that this should be done before the start of the voter registration exercise.

In a related development, the ECC also said it has observed with concern non-compliance in certain provisions of the Liberian Constitution by some political parties and independent candidates, who are required by law (Constitution, Article 83 d) to publish and submit to the

NEC, detailed statements of assets and liabilities by the first of September each year.

While it may be true that some political parties have submitted financial statements to the NEC, “the constitutional provision cited above dictates that the report filed with the NEC must be published to satisfy both conditions of publishing and submitting.” The ECC also commended parties that have made their financial reports public.

In furtherance of the above observation, the ECC recommended that the NEC publish names of all political parties that have failed to submit their financial statements, while at the same time compel these parties to comply with the Constitution.

“The NEC is a government institution that is under obligation to let the public know which political parties have submitted their financial statements, and which have not done so,” Mr. Bloh said.

The NEC is yet to comment on the concerns of the ECC.

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