Over Election Postponement Ellen’s Decision Backfires

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President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s pronouncement to postpone the Special Senatorial Election slated for Tuesday, October 14, 2014 has ‘backfired’ with Capitol Hill announcing that “the President has no constitutional power to take such a decision.”

President Sirleaf, on Wednesday issued a proclamation suspending the holding of the special elections.

According to the Foreign Ministry, “the President acted under authority of the Constitution and pursuant to the power vested in her by both the Constitution of Liberia and the Declaration of the State of Emergency.”

However, members of the House of Representatives yesterday took a decision to correct the President’s action. Following over four hours of heated debate, the House agreed to instruct the Chief Clerk to inform the Executive Mansion that no portion of the 1986 Constitution gives the Presidency any power to postpone elections.

According to Grand Bassa County Representative Gabriel Smith, Article 1 of the Liberian Constitution gives the power to the people, a fundamental right that cannot be taken away by anybody, not even the President.

He noted that powers given the President under a state of emergency have limitations, adding that during such emergency period, “the Constitution is clear that no portion of the organic law should be suspended.”

Rep. Smith, who is also Chairman of the House Committee on Elections and Inaugurations, stated that in this crisis period in the country, only the Legislators, who are the direct representatives of the people, can make such decisions to suspend or postpone any constitutional requirement.

For his part, the Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Bomi County Representative Samuel G. Karmoh, urged his colleagues to endorse the report of his Committee that called for the Legislature acting through a joint resolution by two-thirds of the membership of both houses to postpone the election.

Rep. Karmoh’s Committee recommended among other things, that elections be conducted before January 2015.

That aspect of the recommendation received the blessing of plenary with the body resolved to holding an emergency session Friday to begin the resolution process.

Meanwhile, the Senate failed to take action on a similar matter after nine hours of intense deliberations.

Both Houses are under pressure from the public who have called on their lawmakers to deny President Sirleaf’s request for more power to contain the spread of the Ebola virus.

President Sirleaf on October 1, 2014 communicated with the Legislature outlining several rights and freedoms her government wants to suspend in order to contain the virus.

Her communication has sparked anger from ordinary citizens with many calling for their lawmakers to resist and deny her request.

The President again, on October 8, 2014 resent her October 1, 2014 letter. This time, the tone was different and more details were provided about her planned actions.

Among several things mentioned, Madam Sirleaf further clarified the issue of free speech, which has been a serious bone of contention with the public.

“Article 15 of the Liberian Constitution (1986) Restriction on Speech: The President may, by proclamation or executive action, prevent any citizen, groups of citizens or any entity protected under Article 15 of the constitution from making any public statement in person, by print or electronic, which may have the tendency of undermining the State of Emergency, confusing the public on the nature of the health care threat, or otherwise causing a state of panic about the health care or security condition of the nation.”

Unlike her October 1, 2014, where she just quoted articles in the Constitution without providing any other details, in her October 8, 2014 letter, she provided the following clarification regarding Article 15 of the Constitution: “Because falsehood and negative reporting on the state of affairs is likely to defeat the national effort in the fight of the Ebola virus, it is important that such be discouraged and prevented. Accordingly, the government of Liberia will restrict speeches that will confuse the citizens and residents including the raising of false alarm thereby creating fear during the State of Emergency.”

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