The Liberian Senate at its 58th sitting yesterday voted unanimously to endorse a communication to that body from the National Elections Commission (NEC), that it was impossible for the Commission to conduct the October 14, 2014 Special Senatorial Elections, in the wake of the spread of the Ebola epidemic.
The decision by the Senate followed a report by the joint committee comprising the Autonomous Commission and Agencies, and Judiciary, mandated to act on NEC communication and advise the Senate plenary.
The NEC communication to the Senate, dated August 12, 2014, was reiterated by its Executive Director during a conference with the joint Senate committee. He stressed that his Commission was unable to fulfill its statutory responsibility to hold free, fair and credible election since under the prevailing circumstances it is unable to conduct free campaign activities.
The communication had also warned that NEC would not be able to provide an enabling environment under which local and international observers would be able to participate, observe and state that indeed the electoral process was free, fair and credible.
But most importantly, NEC asserted that amongst the confusion and fear brought about by the Ebola epidemic, voter turnout would have been very low, which would have undermined the credibility of any election.
NEC, according to the communication, therefore restated that it was unable to hold the October 14, 2014 Special Senatorial Elections as scheduled.
The Senate joint committee in its bulky report among other things recommended that the Liberian Senate accepts the impossibility of performance as expressed by NEC in its letter to the Senate, and that steps be taken to absolve NEC of such responsibilities for the conduct of the Special Senatorial Elections on October 14, 2014.
“We note that the holding of elections in 2014 is mandated by the Constitution of Liberia in Article 83a; and similarly the responsibility for the conduct of elections in Liberia is statutorily conferred on NEC, which has now explicitly indicated its inability to conduct the Special Senatorial Elections in October, 20124.
“The joint committee hereby advises that with such expression of inability by NEC for understandable reasons as underlined supra, the Liberian Senate should now commence immediate discussions with the Executive,” the report noted, among many other recommendations.
During discussion of the report, many Senators, among them those whose seats are up for grabs, accepted that fact that indeed, it would be unpatriotic for anyone that suggested that election is feasible in the midst of the outbreak of the deadly Ebola epidemic.
The lone Senator, Dan Morais, who abstained from voting, argued that the issue about the postponement of October election should have originated from the House of Representatives. “You can’t be player and referee at the same time. The October 2014 Special Elections is for 15 Senators and the right thing to do was to allow the House of Representatives to play its role.”
Although NEC has the Constitutional mandate to hold elections on the second Tuesday of every elections year under Article 83a of the Constitution, Senate Pro Tempore Gbehzohngar Findley argued that the same Constitution under Article 86a and 86b gives the President the right to declare a state of emergency, especially during a time of national crisis.
During the state of emergency, certain provisions within the Constitution are affected, such as in the case of the postponement of the October Special Senatorial Elections. The Senators maintained that the Constitutionality of the state of emergency and the postponement of the October election did not need the Supreme Court’s legal intervention.