NDI Wants NEC Stripped of Judicial Role

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Madam Tetteh (left) and other NDI team members.

Makes recommendations to enhance confidence in future election processes

The National Democratic Institute (NDI) says the role(s) ascribed to the National Elections Commission (NEC) by the elections law to adjudicate cases emanating from electoral disputes as conflict of interest and a breach of legal protocols—and has therefore called for the NEC to be stripped of its judicial duties.

While making the recommendations on steps that can be taken to enhance confidence in future election processes and further consolidate democratic institutions in the country, NDI, last week, indicated that it does not make sense for the NEC to be serving both as referee and player in a case.

Though not a functional or recognized judicial body, the NEC, under the New Elections Law, has the mandate to serve as a quasi-judicial body that investigates and adjudicates cases brought before it.

A member of NDI’s high-power elections observation mission- Hanna Tetteh – indicated that there is a need to integrate a review of the legal framework for elections into the ongoing constitutional review process, and ensure through an inclusive and transparent process that gaps or inconsistencies do not exist between the elections law, the constitution and legal precedents.

Article 83c of the Liberian Constitution states that parties involved in election disputes should take their complaints to the NEC even if the Commission is a party to the case.

Madam Tetteh, former Member of Parliament of Ghana and Minister for Foreign Affairs, said Liberia should review electoral dispute resolution mechanisms to avoid potential conflicts of interest and ensure that timelines for each stage of the process are reasonable and clear.

“We want to seek reforms that will better the system and we feel, in this case, that the NEC should not be playing this role because it makes others insecure,” Tetteh said in response to a question about what would have been the impact on the October 10 elections of the ambiguities that exist among the Constitution, the election laws and legal precedents.

The NDI recommendation seems to have been triggered by the intense and tiring litigation processes that attended the 2017 presidential and representative elections that were precipitated by allegations of gross irregularities and fraud in the October 10 polls.

Cases arising from election disputes are first heard by the NEC magistrate in the county where the process took place—and appeals from the office of the magistrate are transferred to the office of the Hearing Officer in Monrovia. A dissatisfied party can take an appeal to the Board of Commissioners; and beyond the Board comes the Supreme Court, which is the final arbiter of justice in the country.

But in the wisdom of the NDI, the former Ghanaian Foreign Minister said an independent body should be constituted to look into electoral disputes rather than the NEC. “A specialized court would be more appropriate,” she said. “We need to build confidence in the process and the best thing to do in my mind is to give that responsibility to an independent body to look into those cases.”

Also addressing the issue recently was the Head of the Elections Coordinating Committee, Oscar Bloh. Bloh has consistently frowned upon the idea of the NEC serving both as a “referee and player” in electoral disputes.

He said the ECC will engage the new government to consider some basic reform processes. One is the need for a referendum to amend some provisions or articles of our constitution.

Bloh noted that there is a need for a serious overhaul of the electoral management system, and the justice system has to improve and be independent of political influence or other factors emanating from citizens based on prominence.

It can be recalled that Liberty Party political leader Cllr. Charles Walker Brumskine initially refused to submit himself to the NEC Board of Commissioners, who were ordered by the Supreme Court to look into his allegations of gross irregularities and fraud before conducting the runoff elections.

Cllr. Brumskine noted that the Board members, especially its Chairman, Cllr. Jerome Korkoya, had prejudged the LP’s case terming it as lacking substance. He also said he could not submit himself to a group that was a party to the case and as a result the Board members should rescue themselves from presiding over the case.

Former Chairman of the NEC, Cllr. Frances Johnson-Allison, backed the Liberty Party’s call for the recusal of the NEC Board of Commissioners in the investigation of the party’s complaint of electoral fraud and irregularities.

Speaking on a local radio station in Monrovia, Madam Johnson-Allison, who is also former Chief Justice and Solicitor General of Liberia, backed the Liberty Party and suggested that a neutral team be set up to carry out the investigation.

“There is a legal basis for that. Whenever you feel that your rights may not be protected by a certain officer – judicial or otherwise administrative, if you feel that person has already been compromised or they have already expressed prejudicial statements against your interest, how can you go back to that person? The person will just confirm their decision that they have already made,” she said.

The political leader of the Alternative National Congress, Alexander B. Cummings, has also called for the overhaul of the country’s electoral system.

He noted in November that the electoral system in Liberia is in bad shape and in need of reforms.

“I said during my campaign that we cannot keep doing the same thing and expect different results; because we may have had problems in the past with our results doesn’t mean we should accept it this time around.

“The one thing we are united on is that we do not believe that the recent election reflects the will of the Liberian people and this is our primary goal.

“We want to make sure that this process follows the rules, the laws and the Constitution of our country,” he said.

Meanwhile, the NDI, in its recommendations, also called on the NEC to release provisional results in a timely fashion to enhance citizens confidence in the data transmission and tabulation process.

NDI wants the NEC to provide polling place-level results in an easily analyzable (machine readable) format on the NEC website.

“Create a platform to facilitate an open and observable national-level tabulation of results.

“Make available to the public data gathered on the Gender Data Capturing Sheet about respective participation rates of women and men as voters.

“Identify future entry points for greater transparency such as the solicitation of an independent audit or procedures for the list to be publicized in full in a timely manner,” said the NDI.

Also addressing the press conference were, Atifete Jahjaga, Former President of Kosovo, and Dr. Chris Fomunyoh, Senior Associate and Regional Director, NDI, Cameroon.

The NDI is a nonprofit, nonpartisan, nongovernmental organization that has supported democratic institutions and practices across the world since its founding in 1983.

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