By David S. Menjor and J. Burgess Carter
As the Supreme Court makes a decision on the fate of the presidential runoff election today, there are many who are wondering about the possible implications for the nation, especially if the November 7 run-off election is postponed. And with rumors rife on social media about possible constitutional crisis and a potential interim government, it may be safe to posit that the rumor mongers are getting way ahead of themselves.
In an interview with the Daily Observer yesterday on what lies ahead for the nation as citizens and partners await the decision of the Supreme Court, Cllr. Frances Johnson Allison said what the Liberty Party did by taking their concerns to the Supreme Court was not an error, neither hate for the country’s forward march as may be perceived by some people.
Cllr. Frances Johnson Allison served as Chairperson of the National Elections Commission (NEC) during the 2005 presidential and legislative elections, when Madam Ellen Johnson Sirleaf first won the presidency. Prior to her NEC appointment, she served as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Liberia.
According to Cllr. Allison “Article 83C of the Liberian Constitution guarantees any aggrieved party in national elections the right to file in their complaints to the National Elections Commission should they gather evidence to present. And, if the findings from the NEC hearing office nullify a complaint and the aggrieved party is not satisfied, an appeal can be taken to the Board of Commissioners (BOC) or the Supreme Court.”
She said: “The returns of the elections shall be declared by the Elections Commission not later than fifteen days after the casting of ballots. Any party or candidate who complains about the manner in which the elections were conducted or who challenges the results thereof shall have the right to file a complaint with the Elections Commission. Such complaint must be filed not later than seven days after the announcement of the results of the elections.
“The Elections Commission shall, within thirty days of receipt of the complaint, conduct an impartial investigation and render a decision which may involve a dismissal of the complaint or a nullification of the election of a candidate. Any political party or independent candidate affected by such decision shall not later than seven days appeal against it to the Supreme Court.
“The Elections Commission shall within seven days of receipt of the notice of appeal; forward all the records in the case to the Supreme Court, which not later than seven days thereafter, shall hear and make its determination. If the Supreme Court nullifies or sustains the nullification of the election of any candidate, for whatever reasons, the Elections Commission shall within sixty days of the decision of the Court conduct new elections to fill the vacancy. If the court sustains the election of a candidate, the Elections Commission shall act to effectuate the mandate of the Court.”
“Every constitution is ‘right based’ and as such the NEC also has the right to disprove LP’s claims by providing authentic evidence,” Cllr. Allison noted.
She said other than the delay in executing its functions as set in its timetable; the NEC has no injury to sustain. “I feel that it will still be legal if the Supreme Court orders the NEC to adjust the time so as to conduct an election which, in this case, is the presidential runoff. By law, the runoff should be held on the second Tuesday following the announcement of results in the first round of elections, but in case a matter such as the one filed by the LP comes up, additional days could be considered by the NEC through the court’s order,” she said.
She hailed the Supreme Court for exercising all efforts looking into all elections-related cases. “I pray that the Supreme Court does its job independently of any outside influence and maintain the courage as the Kenyan Supreme Court and not necessarily to annul an election because of history-making but serve justice impartially,” she noted.
Concerning rumors circulating that there could be an interim government should the runoff not be held as scheduled, Cllr. Allison said it is all too improper for people to ‘sit, look in the blue sky and speak of possibilities’ that are not worthy.
“I know that the Supreme Court has the right to decide but what I have to say is that there is no need for us to think that there will be an interim government. We have come a long way and as such we should think more positively than thinking about going back to ugly days. Let’s pray for a peaceful transition of power from President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf to whoever the majority of the country’s population will elect,” she admonished.
The Senate through its leadership has clarified that the country’s constitution shall remain supreme and that the speculation of an impending interim government to take over from the Ellen Johnson Sirleaf administration should the run-off election not go on as planned is totally without foundation, baseless and lacks any iota of truth.
The Senate noted that the filing of a petition to the Supreme Court for the writ of prohibition by the opposition Liberty Party (LP), growing out of the conduct of the October 10, 2017 presidential and legislative elections, does not necessarily imply the coming into force of an interim government.
The office of Senate Pro-Tempore Armah Zolu Jallah, in a statement, quoted Article 64 of the 1986 Constitution, which unequivocally states that if the offices of the President and Vice President become vacant by incapacity, inability, expiry of tenure, or otherwise, that the constitutional provision shall be invoked and the contents therein shall be implemented as provided by the constitution.
“I am therefore, on behalf of the Senate, cautioning Liberians against unnecessary rumors, and at the same time, encouraging you to go about with your normal daily activities, while the country awaits the outcome of the electoral dispute pending before the honorable Supreme Court,” Jallah concluded.
Due to the October 10, 2017 presidential and legislative elections that includes the House of Representatives, the Senate as a member of the First Branch of Government, cancelled its 2017 annual break to be available for issues that may require Legislative intervention. The Supreme Court and other subordinate courts also cancelled annual breaks to help adjudicate matters arising from the elections.
At a well-attended press conference on Wednesday, the chairman of the National Elections Commission (NEC), Jerome G. Korkoya, announced that the commission, as of Wednesday, has suspended all electoral activities for the scheduled November 7 presidential run-off between Vice President Joseph N. Boakai and Senator George Manneh Weah in adherence to a mandate from the Supreme Court.
The highest court’s prohibition order emanates from a call by the Liberty Party for investigation into its complaint of fraud and irregularities.