ECC Supports Weah’s Desire to Abolish By-Elections

6
2020
Malcolm Joseph of CEMESP (second from right) listening to a journalist's question, as his colleagues looks on.

By Robin Dopoe, Jr. and Hannah N. Geterminah

The Elections Coordinating Committee (ECC), a conglomerate of eight prominent Liberian civil society organizations, has pledged its support to the Government of Liberia’s called to abolish by-elections.

The unprecedented pledge of support by the ECC to the government comes at a time when there is a huge public outcry over the government’s intent to cancel by-elections. Up to now, the ECC has been very critical of the way elections have been handled in the country, since the 2017 elections.

According to the ECC, which is a non-partisan network of civil society organizations that reports on elections issues, the cancellation of by-elections will erase the question of legitimacy because of its low turn-out and unnecessary electoral expenses.

Malcolm Joseph, the executive director of the Center for Media Studies and Peace Building and member of the ECC, told journalists yesterday that ECC’s support for President George Manneh Weah’s proposal to cancel by-elections is the outcome of stakeholders’ engagement with all political actors in the entire country.

Mr. Joseph further explained that in all of the 15 counties, the ECC gathered the views of women, traditional and religious leaders, youth groups as well as people living with disabilities, who all support the abolishing of by-elections on their perspective regarding the electoral reform process.

“In the event of a vacancy in the legislature caused by death, resignation, expulsion, or otherwise, the presiding officer shall within thirty (30) days notify the Elections Commission and the political party on whose ticket the person won hereof.

“Said political party shall not later than 90days hold a convention, overseen by NEC and observed by election observers, to nominate another candidate to complete the term of the person who died, resigned or was expelled until the next election time outlined in the Constitution,” Mr Joseph continued. “Also, to avoid issues with Independent candidates, all candidates for the Senate and House of Representatives shall contest on the tickets of registered political parties.”

Govt Plan

The constitution prescribes that whenever there are vacancies in the legislature, the National Elections Commission should be notified within 30 days to hold a by-election.

But the government wants an end to such clause and have it replaced by appointments.

The government’s call for the cancellation of by-elections, an issue that has been the bane of President George Weah’s presidency for the past ten months, was contained in a communication to the 54th Legislature to amend some provisions of the 1986 Constitution.

President Weah communication suggested that in the event of death, resignation or expulsions of a lawmaker, the position shall be filled by appointment of a “duly elected County Council” within 90 days from the time the notice of vacancy is announced to the council by the presiding officer of the Senate or the House of Representatives.

The duly elected County Council, according to the President, shall be charged with the responsibility of formulating the guidelines by which the vacancy can be filled.

Critical Views

While the government canvasses for support for its plan to cancel by-elections, critics against the move argued that it would circumvent the constitutional principle of representation by the ballot.

Critics of the government also argued that said proposal would disfranchise citizens of their rights to choose their leaders through democratic elections and further deny citizens of their rights to participate in the governance process of their country.

Some critics even foresee a sinister loophole, whereby a duly elected official who is not necessarily favored by the ruling party could be severely intimidated, or worse, killed, and superimposed by an official of the ruling party’s choice. Such a loophole is already foreshadowed by the near-deadly attack on Telia Urey during the Montserrado County District #15 by-elections re-run campaign period. And that attack was the third of such against Urey and her supporters, resulting from a ruling party campaign statement by President George Manneh Weah, who told his partisans to “flog that little girl” (referring to Ms. Urey). He declared that as long as he is President and as long as he is George Manneh Weah, “no Urey will ever win an election in Liberia.”

Such flagrant remarks by the President were construed by his partisans as marching orders to literally harm those he considered political opponents. Before the last attack on Ms. Urey, a Unity Party vehicle was vandalized on the street outside the fence of the National Elections Commission, while the person to whom the vehicle was assigned was inside, attending an elections dispute hearing. The perpetrator of the violence was caught on video and identified.

In November 2018, the Montserrado County District #13 by-election campaign rally of Cornelia Kruah Togba was disrupted by ruling party members led by CDC Youth Wing leader, Jefferson T. Koijee. Several people were severely injured and Madam Togba, who ran on the Unity Party ticket, had to be whisked off into hiding, along with Grand Bassa County Senator Nyonblee Karnga Lawrence, who had attended Togba’s campaign rally as a show of support.

To date, in all three cases, no investigations have been conducted, even though few persons from the attack on Urey were ceremoniously arrested. Since then, nothing else has been heard of those arrested.

Critics believe that, as expensive as by-elections are, they are necessary for democracy to survive in Liberia, or else the country would regress to a de facto one-party state under the guise of being penny-wise.

In a related development, the ECC has called for the amendment of section 2.1 of the new election law to create room for an inclusive and broad-based nomination process.

Mr. Joseph said the amendment of this section is necessary to “represent the diversity of the society through a public vetting exercise that allows the people to submit names to the President for appointment.”

“This process will ensure that individuals nominated will have the competencies in election management and to open room for diverse expertise,” Mr Johnson said.

6 COMMENTS

  1. Another important electoral reform should be one that is geared towards limiting the terms of the president and the lawmakers. Liberia is a fragile country, whose growth has been stymied by the lack of competent leaders to chart a path that would put it on a sound economic footing.

    keeping a crop of leaders in power for decades, while the nation remains underdeveloped, in contrast to her neighboring countries, is counterproductive. It is a recipe for deadly contentions and relentless social strife.

    An argument could be made that Ellen’s 12 years in power was proper because she had inherited a country which had no system of good governance and nearly all the infrastructures were wiped out. However, she was successful to establish democratic reforms, encourage freedoms of expression and assembly, attract foreign investment, and maintain law and order.

    As minimal as these achievements may sound, they were vital to the Post-War recovery of the country.

    President Weah inherited a more favorable governing climate. What do I mean? Unlike Ellen’s, he met some funds in the national reserves and did not have to deal with reviving an economy that was swallowed by stagnant growth and hyper-inflation. Moreover, the political climate was relatively peaceful.

    Nevertheless, that era is over. The country has realized a population boom and according to statistics, the majority of this new group is young folks, who are graduating from high schools and colleges in droves. This new generation has various competing demands for jobs and an equal access to the flow of the national wealth.

    The growing consensus among the various populations today, is that the government is not doing enough to improve the lot of this young generation. Consequently, this stubbornness on its part has grossly added to the uneasiness that is reverberating throughout the country.

    A good way to address the issue would be to limit the terms of the presidency from 6 to 4 years and those of the senators from 9 to 6 years. Liberia needs innovative and independent minded leaders to accelerate the pace of its reforms.

    The present system of by-elections is good for the country because it at least comes close to what free and fair elections should look like under systems of democracy. The only exception here is that President Weah and his ruling party should stop manipulating the electoral process.

    Leaving the decisions of by-elections in the hands of county councils will throw Liberia back to the days of “So says one, so says all.” The bad decisions of those eras, leading from the mid 1800’s throughout the 1900’s, are what got Liberia to where it is today!

  2. I don’t agree with that ECC.
    Please follow the constitution. There should elections.

    I don’t also agree with the quote:

    “Mr Joseph continued. “Also, to avoid issues with Independent candidates, all candidates for the Senate and House of Representatives shall contest on the tickets of registered political parties.””

    Independent candidates will never agreed. Please follow the constitution.
    God bless Liberia.

  3. You idiots!

    Aside from it being undemocratic at its core; don’t you realize that this is going increase gangster-ism within political parties?!

    Imagine a scenario where the seat always goes to the highest bidder (which happens even now), but with such a law internal party opponents will be more inclined to eliminate (aka murder) their current Representative or Senator because they will have been promised the seat by their party heads!

    Any person, let alone any sitting Senator or Representative, who is in favor of this needs to have their head examined!

  4. This sounds good and look like an act that will strengthen our political parties. Have you also consider the event were a sitting representative leaves his party and join another whilst still a sitting representative? In my opinion said representative or senator should be expel and replace in the same manner as advocated for a bye elections .

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