Former Liberia Permanent Representative to the United Nations (UN), Ambassador Lewis G. Browne, has added his voice to many voices that have called on President George Weah to withdraw his top choice at the National Elections Commission (NEC).
Unlike the many other critics of the President’s actions who are only calling for the withdrawal of the NEC Chairman designate, Cllr. Austin Nbudusi Nwabudike, Mr. Browne is calling for the withdrawal of all of the nominations that the President made—because the nominations appear to be seriously imbalanced and tend to favor the ruling Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC).
For the former UN Envoy, who previously served as Information Minister prior to taking his post at the UN, the nominations run contrary to recent precedent of consultations with political parties and civil society organizations, which are all possessed of direct and or vested interests in the composition of the NEC.
In an open letter to the President issued over the weekend, Ambassador Browne said: “The President’s nominations run afoul of the recent precedent of consultations with political parties and civil society organizations.”
He added that even worse, “these nominations pervade an affront to the need for balance and inclusion, by which political parties that are constitutionally authorized to represent the people in the electoral process.”
He said while the letter of the law may not require the President to carry out due diligence or do a broad base consultation with other stakeholders, the spirit of the law, and importantly, the history of electoral contests and conflicts, as well as the need to ensure fairness, credibility, and integrity about our elections, do.
“These require a broadened level of consultation, especially with political parties, prior to the nominations of commissioners,” Ambassador Browne said.
“At least on its face, the nominations appear to be seriously imbalanced in favor of the ruling CDC. The immediate previous membership included Mr. Sam Joe, who affiliated with the Liberty Party (LP) prior to his nomination as Commissioner; Mr. Jonathan Weedor, with prior political affiliation with the Liberian National Union (LINU); Ms. Davidetta Brown, said to be linked to the CDC and/or nominated on its recommendation; and Cllr. Jerome Korkoya, who was at various times linked to the Unity Party, National Patriotic Party, and the Liberty Party,”
“The other members were appointed to reflect other important considerations including gender, religious and geographic balances. Though coming from diverse political, religious, geographic and other backgrounds, the commissioners were nominated primarily on the strength of their competence and character,” he said, adding that this balance and diversity of backgrounds, while it may not have been agreeable to all, offered the confidence needed for the continued peaceful consolidation of healthy multiparty democracy, in the country.
Unfortunately, he said, the current nominations offset the precedence political parties, civil society organizations, and many Liberians have come to accept as necessary and contributory to the health of our emerging democracy.
“This precedence of consultations with the political parties and civil society organizations enlists the important inclusion of other parties’ nominees into the membership of the Commission.”
“This has the important effect of guaranteeing balance, which ultimately promotes the perception of fairness in the important works of the Commission. I cannot emphasize enough that a public sense of fairness is inherently vital to the NEC fulfilling its important responsibilities to our country.”
Since the nominations were made a fortnight ago, it has been the Chairman designate, Cllr. Nwabudike, who has been in the limelight of criticisms. There have been incessant calls from many quarters of the Liberian society, especially from the civil society for his nomination to be withdrawn as questions linger over his nationality, neutrality, and loyalty.
Ambassador Browne said that with the current composition, and if they are subsequently confirmed, the issue of the NEC executing its foundational responsibility to conduct free, fair, transparent and credible elections, will be at stake.
“Nominees must be seen as likely to be even-handed and judicious in the execution of all of the laws appertaining to elections, in keeping with the overwhelming aspirations of the Liberian people,” he said.
He also frowns on the timing of the nomination, which he said is a distraction from the real issue that the country and the world are currently faced with—the fight against COVID-19.
“The timing of the nominations, coming as it did almost at the same time as terrifying news of the country’s third confirmed Coronavirus case was released to the public, projected a worrying sense of “business as usual” at the time when the government is urging ordinary Liberians to make hard life-style and other difficult adjustments necessitated by the magnitude of the health threat,” he said.
The articulate diplomat noted that the pervasive sense of “business as usual” is continuing to fertilize seeds of doubts in the population, a danger on which the Pandemic is likely to thrive.
Browne reminded the President that The special place and crucial value of the NEC to our continued democratic governance, peace, security and stability are not only harsh lessons from our history, but also are gleaned from the fact that the Elections Commission is one of only three commissions established by Article 89 of the Liberian Constitution of 1986.
He said the Commission’s expansive powers and responsibilities are both tangential and consequential in the determination of citizenship, national leadership, the exercise of rights and freedoms, as well as sustaining political expressions and associations.
“It should therefore be expected that nominations to that body would accordingly garner public interests and concerns. Even where all may not agree, nominations to the NEC ought to still inspire the sense of a deeper reflection and consideration of the premium valuation of the NEC, in the democratic life and well being of our nation,” he noted.
“Much has been said about the nationality and dual allegiance of the nominated chair. Indeed, consistent with our proud heritage to be a land opened to the freedom of all men and women of negroid descent, we have continued to keep that promise as the history of our country is endearingly enriched by our continuous offer of citizenship, in assistance and support to our African brothers and sisters. We must continue to open Liberia to all who seek freedom and opportunity. We are a better country for doing so,” he said.
However, it is instructive to observe that even during the country’s difficult conflict, when Liberians likely attained the peak of their distrust of each other, and anchored ourselves onto humiliating dependence and virtual trusteeship, even then, Ambassador said, no non-natural born Liberian ever presided over the NEC- and none ever has. “Even when our elections were conducted under less than full constitutional authority, the elections commission was headed by a natural-born Liberian.”
He noted that every country on the face of the earth, and especially in Liberia’s geographic neighborhood, have positions that are too dear to their country – too meaningful to their history and destiny – that they will not surrender it to foreigners or naturalized citizens, when so many of their natural born citizens can perform such duties honorably and competently.