Acting Justice Minister, Cllr. Benedict Shannon, last Monday begged for an extension by the High Court allowing the National Elections Commission (NEC) to hold the special senatorial election by 26 December instead of 16 December as scheduled.
The appeal was made after the panel of five judges expressed concern over the ability of NEC and government to hold a free, fair, and transparent election within eight days, if the High Court were to have lifted the ban on Monday. Today with barely five days left before voters go to the polls, the candidates will be hard pressed to canvass and carry out their planned campaign activities.
The Supreme Court on Friday, November 28, placed a stay order suspending all election activities, pending hearings into a lawsuit filed by a group of concerned eminent citizens, political parties and civil society organizations against the NEC and the government. The group wants the special senatorial elections postponed contending that NEC and the Justice Ministry were not giving due consideration to the high risk of spreading the deadly Ebola virus in the intensity of canvassing and large campaign gatherings
Appealing for a 10-day extension, Cllr. Shannon, who is also Attorney General, admitted that the NEC and government would not be able to conduct the elections in the few days remaining until December 16 owing to the pending legal issues therefore additional time would be needed.
He made the appeal during the oral argument, concerning whether or not to allow the election to go on as planned, when he appeared before the full bench of the Supreme Court.
“Your Honors, I must admit that with this legal issue hanging over us regarding the holding of the special senatorial election, it is difficult to assure you that we would be able to hold it within eight days, considering busy schedule and circumstances beyond his control,” Cllr. Shannon told the court.
He added: “If your Honors agree to lift the suspension placed on NEC and government to halt all election activities, then I would like for you to please give us a ten-day extension, in order for us to have the opportunity to replace the time lost.”
Cllr. Shannon said NEC and government are keen on ensuring free, fair, and transparent elections, if it is extended by ten days to December 26, explaining that by then they would have carried out extensive consultations with other important stakeholders for the holding of the elections.
Delving into the controversial Executive Order 65, the acting Attorney General said that the order was necessary, arguing that “people and political institutions were not respecting the Ministry of Justice (MOJ)’s order to obtain permits before starting a protest or parade.”
He said that jointly setting December 16 for the holding of the special senatorial election did not put the Executive and the National Legislature in error, even though both branches of government have been widely criticized, especially by those seeking the suspension of the election activities, which he blamed on the lack of citizen’s participation.
Both the NEC and government on November 28 was hauled to the High Court by a group of eminent citizens, political parties and civil society, who say that government handling of the election was in complete violation of the 1986 Constitution.
But in response to the Attorney General’s request for an extension of the election date, justices said: “This was a political issue and it is not our responsibility to set a time or date for elections. You have to go back and hold consultations with the political parties and senatorial candidates, so that you people would agree with an extension date.” They also said that their concerns did not establish that they have brought down a ruling into the matter.
“We are just thinking whether if we lift the ban there would be no other parties coming back to the High Court to file a lawsuit against the handling of the election by NEC,” the justices said.