Just a day to the holding of the November 7 runoff, the Supreme Court has ordered the cancellation of the process, pending an investigation into an allegation of gross irregularities and fraud arising from the conduct of the October 10 presidential and legislative elections based on a case filed by the Liberty Party (LP).
The LP asked for a writ of prohibition, restraining the National Elections Commission (NEC) from proceeding with the runoff election until their complaints were heard and decided by the electoral body.
Issuing the writ, Chief Justice Francis Korkpor, who read the opinion (judgment) of the court said, “The writ will lie, where an administrative, tribunal though having jurisdiction over a matter, proceeds contrary to rule which ought to be observed at all times.”
In the instant case, Justice Korkpor indicated, “the NEC has jurisdiction over the complaints filed by the LP, but by setting a date and proceedings to announce the conduct of the runoff election, while the matter was still pending before that body undecided, the NEC was proceeding by the wrong rules.” He therefore granted the “the peremptory writ of prohibition requested by the LP.”
Before, Korkpor’s decision yesterday, Associate Justice Kabineh Ja’neh had earlier issued an alternative writ of prohibition, which prevented the NEC from holding the runoff election, pending the intervention of the other four judges including the chief justice to hear the matter, because the LP complaints rose from several constitutional issues that a single justice like him, Ja’neh restricted from hearing.
Justice Ja’neh is the Chamber Justice and his initial decision was also upheld and sustained by his colleagues.
In the court’s decision, Justice Korkpor also ordered that the “NEC is stopped and prohibited from conducting the runoff election, until the complaints filed by the LP are investigated by the NEC, and if need be the party’s appeal process to the Supreme Court is availed of and the matter is decided by the court.”
Concluding, the chief justice said, “because of the critical nature of the complaints, subject of the petition proceedings, and its implication on the governance of the nation, the NEC is directed to give urgent attention to the expeditious hearing and determination.”
Before yesterday’s decision by the Supreme Court, the NEC had earlier without hearing and deciding the LP’s complaints, which also included violation of the constitution and election law and fraudulent acts, set November 7, as the date for the holding of the runoff, between Vice President Joseph Boakai of the Unity Party (UP) and Senator George Weah of the Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC).
NEC relied on Article 83 of the 1986 Constitution, arguing that the article gives the electoral body 30 days to hear and decide any complaints of irregularities and frauds, after the announcement of the final votes of the October 10 presidential and legislative elections. This, the electoral body believed gave them the constitutional mandate to conduct the runoff, while conducting an investigation into the LP’s complaints.
Justice Korkpor, meanwhile, said the law requires that Article 83 of the constitution be implemented in the light of the entire document, then, the NEC’s sequestered pronouncement, “because every provision is of equal importance and even where there is an apparent discrepancy between the different provisions, the court should harmonize them, if possible.”
According to Korkpor, Article 83 (c ) sets forth a series of events that are linked together and they must be taken into consideration when interpreting the minds of the framers of the constitution in relations to the runoff election, “to expiry of the time provided in that article (Article 83 (c ).”
The Chief Justice said, the more rational and legal interpretation under judicial construction, “is that the reference in Article 83 (b) to expiry of the time provided article (c) refer to the totality of the events emanated in (c) from the announcement of the final result by the NEC to the disposition of any challenge by the Supreme Court,” Justice Korkpor explained.
He also explained that the constitutional requirement NEC argued mandated in Article 83 (c), that only the two presidential tickets with the greatest number of valid votes on the first ballot should be designated to participate in the runoff election, when the vote cast on the first ballot was still subject of allegation of “gross irregularities and frauds before the NEC, which was without legal authority to have designated any two presidential tickets for the runoff election,” Korkpor maintained.