The Board of Commissioners (BOC) of the National Elections Commission (NEC) over the weekend upheld the Commission’s chief hearing officer’s ruling against the Liberty Party (LP) and Unity Party (UP).
Jerome G. Korkoya, chair; Cllr. Sarah J. Toe, co-chair; as well as Commissioners Jonathan K. Weedor, Samuel Z. Joe, Jeanette A. Ebba-Davidson, Davidetta Browne Lansanah and Boakai Dukuly, were in attendance when the ruling was handed down.
The Board’s decision came following a review of the merits and demerits of the case and arguments proffered by its legal counsel and those of the complainant and co-complainant’s legal teams.
Reading the Board’s decision to uphold hearing officer Cllr. Muana Ville’s ruling, Board Member Davidetta Brown Lansana said “The irregularities in no way amounted to fraud and that the LP and the Up have failed to produce sufficient evidence against the Commission to justify their accusations are valid to warrant the cancellation of the October 10 polls results; and the two political parties’ complaints are dismissed and denied.”
“Understanding that 1,641,922 or 75.19 percent of the 2.1 million registered voters participated in the October 10 elections and that the Coalition for Democratic Change acquired 38.4 percent while the ruling Unity Party got 29 percent, both political parties thereby becoming qualified to go for the runoff, and that the burden of proof lies in the hand of the accuser, to which LP and UP have failed, this Board upholds the chief hearing officer’s ruling.”
She said the Sando Johnson versus NEC case in 2005 at the Supreme Court placed the burden of proof on Johnson, now Senator of Bomi County. She said the Supreme Court, without the required proof of evidence from Johnson, denied him the right to his office at the Capitol Building right after the elections. Commissioner Lansana added that Sections 3.2, 3.6, 4.2a and 4.71, among sections of the New Elections Law, and Article 83C of the Liberian Constitution, were followed by the NEC as results from the polls and subsequent investigations have shown.
Section 3.2 of the New Elections Law grants the Commission the right to consider voters with valid VR cards, even if their names are not found on the Final Registration Roll (FRR); Section 3.6 of the New Elections Law mandate the NEC to make available the FRR at all of its magistrate offices across the country for public viewing before elections are held; and Section 4.2a orders the Commission to select suitable locations for precincts and polling centers; and in case there is a challenge that makes the process questionable, it has the right to change any polling place with sufficient due notice to the voters on where the polling place has been relocated. Meanwhile, Section 4.71 states that the Commission has the right to decide on how ballot papers should look like and where they are printed.
The complainants, over the past weeks of their arguments at the Commission’s headquarters, said the NEC did not satisfy all the required laws as mentioned in the Elections Law book.
LP and UP noted that the FRR was not published. They said a flash drive containing the FRR was given to seven of the 26 political parties in September, the month before the October elections. UP, through its expert witness, Jeff Bleebo – a stalwart of the National Movement to Support Boakai’s presidency (NAMBO) – registered that the subpoenaed flash drive had over 35,000 additional names than the previous flash drive given to the political parties. The party’s arguments continue by registering also that 79 precincts and 10 polling places were omitted from the flash drive given to the political parties and 1,109 votes were marked in favor of CDC at a particular polling center in Grand Gedeh County.
The UP also argued among other things that it was unconstitutional for the Commission to have used addenda (additional lists of names of voters not found on the FRR) at the polls.
Their arguments were refuted by the NEC’s legal team, describing their action as a “fishing expedition intended to satisfy the selfish intents of a few people whose political ideologies are not in the interest of the country.”
Counselors Frank Musa Dean, Alexander Zoe and Joseph Blidi of the Commission stood their ground and rejected LP and UP’s claims. The three veteran lawyers referred to the LP as a failed political institution with a score mark of “F,” and gave the UP a “D+.”
The counselors, after presenting C. A. Lamin Lighe, executive director of NEC, and Joseph Yarsiah, the Commission’s political affairs director, as witnesses on behalf of the Commission, established before the hearing officer and the Board of Commissioners that the names of Wilmot Paye, national chairman of UP and the defeated Independent representative candidate of Montserrado Electoral District #3, Josiah Flomo Joekai, were said to not have been found on the FRR, but were later found on the FRR during a witness oriented testimony.
They argued that the addenda did not mean creating a separate FRR but a means to accommodate voters whose names could not be found on the FRR when they appeared at the wrong polling centers. The Commission’s witnesses noted that many voters queued as early as 4 a.m., when polling staff were not yet at their places of assignment.
After the ruling, a Liberty Party supporter who refused to give his name displayed a placard which read: “The Supreme Court will protect our democracy, not NEC.”
Explaining the meaning, he said the NEC is a complete embarrassment to the progress of democratic gains because it lacks independence and integrity. Although he did not go into detail, a group of other protestors agreed with him, saying they hope that the Supreme Court will bring them relief – as in the case of Harrison Karnwea who, among a number of candidates, was given the green light against the Code of Conduct (COC) to contest the 2017 elections — and their success in getting the stay order on the November 7 runoff election granted.
LP and UP have meanwhile taken exception to the BOC ruling and are expected to complete filing their appeals to the Supreme Court starting today.