As the officials of the Executive Branch of Government including the autonomous National Elections Commission (NEC) stand in defiance of the Supreme Court to halt the proposed referendum, the opposition political parties and Alliances have expressed disappointment the government’s attempt to narrowly interpret the ruling of the Supreme Court in contravention of Article 65 of the constitution which states; “Judgments of the Supreme Court shall be final and binding and shall not be subject to appeal or review by any other branch of Government”.
It may be recalled, Minister Nathaniel McGill told a hurriedly arranged press conference in the C. Cecil Dennis Hall that contrary to this public negative perception the ‘Referendum is on course and will go ahead as planned’. He stated that the propaganda is being perpetrated by some greedy politicians to stay in position for a protracted period at the detriment of the suffering masses.
“We call on Liberians across the country to turnout and vote a yes vote come December 8, 2020, for the eight proposition stated to be on the ballot,” said McGill. “I think it’s a new day in Liberia where the government does not intend to stay in power for so long. This is laudable that the government for the first time wants to give you the opportunity to have a share in the political say of our country.” Minister McGill stated.
“The NEC’s statement of defiance of the Supreme Court’s ruling also raises disturbing credibility and integrity questions of its commitment to preside over free and fair elections, and to abide by future rulings of the Supreme Court in elections disputes.”
The parties further reminded the National Elections Commission to be careful in the manner it is interpreting the ruling of the Supreme Court.
“Let’s remind you to be careful in reviewing the Supreme Court’s opinion delivered by Justice Yussif D. Kaba pointing out the following: That, the National Legislature’s ‘Resolution’, which serves as the initiating instrument of the referendum, is correctly the foundational document that ought to guide and inform the process of holding the referendum, rather than the Official Gazette…”.
Additionally, “The court found out that the Official Gazette is inconsistent with the dictates of the constitution and that the NEC is prevented from printing ballots relying on the said Official Gazette Since the NEC intends proceeding with the referendum by unilaterally expanding the THREE propositions as presented in the Official Gazette published in October 2019, to EIGHT as prescribed by the Constitution, we are concerned that such scenario creates more problems than it intends to solve.”
According to the opposition parties, the NEC has unveiled THREE SYMBOLS as a guide to voters to coincide with the unconstitutional Gazette, wondering how does NEC intend to reconcile the THREE SYMBOLS which it has unveiled with five additional propositions that will be added to the ballot for the consideration of voters. It presupposes that adequate time is required to unveil the additional FIVE SYMBOLS and conduct public awareness as required by Article 92 of the Constitution.”
The parties insisted: “The Collaborating political parties & Alliances stated that in order for NEC to print ballots on the basis of the EIGHT proposed amendments, there must first be a new Official Gazette issued by the Liberian Government listing the EIGHT proposed amendments.
“NEC by itself cannot print ballots without the Official Gazette consistent with the Constitution. Before the ballots are printed, there must be close collaboration with the political parties, and major stakeholders to derive a consensus on the SYMBOLS which will form the basis for public education.”
“NEC cannot, and must not unilaterally decide on the type of SYMBOLS to be used. We note that the NEC is merely an implementing agency. It is not an agency of original jurisdiction for triggering referendum processes; hence, we urge that caution be applied in the premises. Most importantly, we refer to Article 93 of the constitution which says, “The limitation of the Presidential term of office to two terms, each of six years duration, may be subject to amendment; provided that the amendment shall not become effective during the term of office of the incumbent President”.
Arguing the substantiality of the referendum further, the opposition political parties said: “We take note that both the Legislature’s Resolution and the subsequent Official Gazette are both silent on Article 93, which in our view should first be repealed before proceeding with amendment, which the flawed referendum attempts to address. With less than two weeks before Election Day, we are deeply troubled by the haste with which the NEC plans to proceed with the holding of the flawed referendum against the wishes of the Liberian people.”
The groups said in a release that the complications in this process far outweigh any benefits to our democracy, noting, “The Liberian people are confused over the intents and purposes of the NEC to rush ahead with the referendum when the government of Liberia has widely advertised its intention to “Change the Constitution” in contravention of Article 76 of the said Liberian Constitution. It is disturbing to us that the NEC, which is established as an integrity institution, should be a party to an unconstitutional process thereby posing a danger to our growing democracy.”
“We therefore urge the NEC to be circumspect about the negative effects of going against the wishes of the Liberian people and against the ruling of the Supreme Court to proceed with the referendum. We therefore demand that the referendum be halted until such time when all constitutional provisions are followed. It is important that the public is adequately informed, and has confidence that the NEC is free of any undue pressure, and capable of conducting free, fair and transparent elections,” the parties said in a joint statement
The collaborating political parties and Alliances comprised of the Rainbow Alliance, RA: (MOVEE, RDC, CDA, VOLT, DJP, ULD, VCP, TWP); Coalition of Political Parties, CPP:(UP, LP, ANC, ALP); Liberian National Union, LINU: (National Democratic Coalition, NDC: FDP, NDA); Liberia Restoration Party, LRP: United Peoples Party, UPP: Movement for One Liberia, MOL: and Coalition for Liberia’s Progress, CLP: New Liberia Party, NLP.
For his part, Liberia’s chief prosecutor and Solicitor-General,S. Sayma Cephus reemphasized that the ruling of the Supreme Court was misinterpreted and the process is well on course.
“The Supreme Court did not cancel any referendum. The ruling return to statues code and those provisions are being respected. As a matter of fact, the National Elections Commission-NEC, on yesterday announced that it has begun printing of ballot including the eight provisions of the proposed propositions” Cllr. Cephus stated.
The Supreme court, in a unanimous decision on last Wednesday, November 18, granted the CPP’s request for a writ of prohibition and mandated the National Elections Commission (NEC) to abandon the referendum, which was to be held alongside the Senatorial and Representative by-elections.
The decision comes following a writ of prohibition filed at the Supreme Court by the Collaborating Political Parties (CPP), the Grassroots Rainbow Coalition, and numerous call by various groups, including the Liberia National Bar Association (LNBA) and the Liberia Council of Churches, for the Elections Commission to leave the referendum out of the upcoming December 8 senatorial mid-term election.