The Elections Coordinating Committee (ECC) has called on the Supreme Court of Liberia to clarify some of the directives to the National Elections Commission (NEC) as contained in its Thursday, December 7 opinion.
According to the ECC, the call is an effort to help the NEC to properly execute the high court’s mandate and also for the public to understand the NEC’s scope of operation.
In its ruling for a runoff rather than a rerun as prayed for by Liberty Party (LP) and Unity Party (UP) versus the NEC, the Court’s ruling seemed to have finally put the political impasse (that engulfed the country since the polls) to rest. However, according to the ECC, the mandate from the ruling is creating more questions.
In a statement issued in Monrovia yesterday, the ECC raised questions over the vagueness of some of the directives from the high court—highlighting the implications of some of the directives contained in the modification of the Court’s opinion in affirming the decision of the Board of Commissioners.
Some of the “vague mandates” that are being questioned include the cleaning of the Final Registration Roll (FRR) and for the NEC to bar from voting anyone who may have a voter card but whose name is not in the FRR, among others.
ECC Chairman Oscar Bloh said the High Court’s mandate for the NEC to clean the FRR in compliance with the provision of the law, is unclear. “It is unclear what ‘cleaning up the FFR’ means and we want to call on the Supreme Court to provide clarity on what it means,” he said.
Bloh also indicated that the directive is also unclear as to who is responsible to certify that the cleaning up of the FRR is in compliance with the law and that it is in a satisfactory condition to proceed with the conduct of the second round.
He called on the Court to release the full opinion of the case in order to provide clarity on the mandate to the NEC as contained in the judgment.
“The Elections Commission is under obligation to inform the public on the scale of the problem and the specific issues on the FRR that it intends to address. The public needs to know how big or small the problem with the FRR is in order to commensurate with the timeframe that will be set for such a process,” he said.
With the mandate for NEC to prohibit anyone whose name is not found on the FRR from voting, Bloh noted that this too is ambiguous in that it is not clear what the scope of the problems surrounding the FRR are. The enforcement of this mandate, he said, would mean that citizens with valid voter cards who are eligible to vote will be disenfranchised thereby infringing on their Constitutional Rights in keeping with Liberian laws and the doctrine of Universal Suffrage.
However, the above directive from the Supreme Court appears to violate two legal provisions of Liberian law: Article 77 (b) of the Constitution and Section 5.1 of the New Elections Law.
Article 77 (b) of the Constitution says: “Every Liberian citizen not less than 18 years of age shall have the right to be registered as a voter and to vote in public elections and referenda.”
Section 5.1 of the New Elections Law says: “Except one who has been judicially declared to be incompetent or of unsound mind, or who has been barred from voting as a result of his or her conviction and imprisonment for an infamous crime which disenfranchised him or her as a voter and has not been restored to full citizenship, a Liberian citizen who has attained the age of 18 years or above with a valid registration card may vote at any election in the voting precinct of the electoral district for which he or she is registered.”
However, Mr. Bloh said the ECC is of the view that citizens with valid voter cards who wish to vote should not be punished for the negligence and lapses of the NEC. “Because we do not know the scale of the problem (the number of names missing from or duplicated on the FRR), no one knows how disenfranchised citizens would react on the day of the election if they are not allowed to vote.”
“Probably, this number would be too huge and will cause another problem so we need to start determining to what extent people will be affected by this decision. The NEC made her blunders and the Liberian people are going to suffer for nothing if this is enforced,” he said.
Though the High Court mandated the NEC to schedule the run-off election in accordance with the Constitution and the New Election Law, in keeping with Article 83 b and c, the ECC calls on the NEC to provide a clear timeline on how and when the mandate of the Supreme Court will be implemented in order to set the date for the run-off.
In its opinion summary, the Supreme Court acknowledged that there were isolated incidents of violations associated with the polls but that the evidence provided by the parties was not within the threshold or magnitude to substantially impact on the results to have a re-run. But Mr. Bloh said the Court; however, fell short of defining what constitutes “magnitude of fraud” that would warrant a re-run of an election.
He called on the NEC to demonstrate transparency in its deeds, given the fact that a credible FRR contributes to credible elections. “We want the NEC to demonstrate transparency at every stage of the process in cleaning the FRR.”
The ECC chairman said in order to build public confidence in the electoral process, the NEC should identify, in consultations with the contending parties, an independent body to certify that the FRR has been cleaned. “The ECC is of the view that the IT experts brought in by ECOWAS to assess the NEC’s database can play a meaningful role in this direction,” he said.
Bloh wants the contending parties to engage at every stage of the planning process leading to major decisions, including the setting of the runoff election date, cleaning of the FRR and the conduct of other activities.
In the recruitment of poll watchers for the runoff, he told political parties that poll agents to be recruited should be registered voters in the polling places in which they will vote—as this is in fulfillment of one of the mandates of the Supreme Court.