Following two days of intense debate, the Senate last Friday unanimously voted to adopt a resolution, consistent with the proclamation of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s call, to suspend the October 14, 2014 Special Senatorial Election.
The issue of the Special Election was one of several measures contained in two separate letters sent to the Senate by President Sirleaf early this month, in which she informed that body of “measures being undertaken restricting/suspending certain fundamental rights of Liberian citizens,” for which she was seeking the Senators’ approval.
The Senators, however, failed to take decisions on the fundamental issues that are contained in Article 12 of the 1986 Constitution on Labor; Article 13 on the Free Movement of People; Article 14 of the Constitution of 1986 which deals with Religious Restriction. These issues were the subject of contentious debates in the Senate plenary.
Under Article 14, “The President may by proclamation, restrict certain religious practices, generally or specifically, if she finds that such practices further endanger the public health and contributes to the spread of the virus.”
In her communication, President Sirleaf noted that “In many of our counties, where certain religious and tribal practices such as the bathing and worshiping [over] dead [bodies] is religiously observed, the spread [and] transmission of the disease have been prevalent and the death toll have been enormous. To prevent [more deaths] and spread of this disease, these practices will be restricted whenever and wherever it becomes necessary.”
Other Articles that needed Senate approval included Article 15 under which the President, by proclamation or executive action, may prevent any citizen, groups of citizens or entity…from making public statements in person … otherwise causing a state of panic…. Article 17 and 24 that deal with assembly of people and expropriation of Property, respectively, are also among demands contained in President Sirleaf’s communication.
In their Resolution, which is limited to the holding of the scheduled Tuesday, October 14 election, the Senators resolved thus:
“Now, therefore, it is resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the 53rd Legislature of the Republic of Liberia in Extraordinary Session Assembled:
That immediately after the adoption of this Resolution number 002/ 2014, voting in the Special Senatorial Election of 2014 is hereby suspended, consistent with the proclamation of the President.”
The Resolution continued with the mandate that the National Election Commission (NEC), the agency of government authorized to hold general and special elections, “immediately commence consultations and discussions with all recognized accredited political parties, independent candidates, civil society organizations, the Legislature and other stakeholders, as well as national and international health authorities of the new date for holding of the Special Senatorial Elections, pending the approval of the National Legislature.”
Proffering a motion following the reading of the prepared text, Sinoe County Senior Senator Mobutu Vlah Nyenpan moved “that the resolution be received by today’s sitting, adopted and voted for in the affirmative in response to the suspension of Article 83a, and making sure that the instrument which was presented to the Legislature by her Excellency the President on this matter is responded to by the Liberian Senate.”
Announcing his un-readiness to vote on the Resolution, Bomi County Senator Sando Johnson, who is one of the strongest voices calling for the rejection of President Sirleaf’s request for extra powers, demanded that the mover amend the motion by including that the Senate also vote to deny the President’s two letters of October 1, and October 8 requesting for additional powers; but Senator Nyenpan denied Senator Johnson’s amendment.
Rather, Senator Nyenpan, reminding his colleague, referred him to the Friday, October 10, 2014 Agenda/Order of Business, which had one item that was expected to deal exclusively with the matter of the Special Election’s postponement.
“While I am in solidarity with my colleague in terms of our voting on the other matters, [yet this] cannot be done under the ambit of this particular sitting … I therefore respectfully beg to reject.”
For his part, Maryland County Senator Dan Morais, described Senator Nyenpan’s motion as compounded and complex, but failed to elaborate on the compound/complexity of that motion.
Meanwhile, there are indications that the Senate will on Tuesday make a final disposition of the President’s proposals affecting the momentum in the fight against the Ebola epidemic.