Senators believe that holding the election at that time while Ebola continues to ravage the country shows “insensitivity to the plight of the Liberian people.”
Addressing journalists after the Senate’s executive session yesterday, the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs, Senator Dan H. Morias, who served as the presiding officer during session, said senators rejected the proposed legislation from the House of Representatives on the National Elections Commission’s (NEC) proposed date which is Tuesday, December 16, 2014.
The Maryland County lawmaker said the Senate had unanimously decided against honoring any date for the Special Senatorial Election primarily because of the pandemic which has claimed the lives of over 2,000 Liberians and foreign nationals and is still spreading in other counties including Grand Cape Mount, Rivercess, Sinoe and Grand Kru.
“The Liberian Senate just concluded its deliberations as it relates to the holding of election as proposed by the National Elections Committee on the 16th of December and also upon receipt of communication from the House of Representatives requesting a concurrence from the Liberian Senate. After these deliberations the Liberian Senate voted against the holding of elections at this period,” Senator Morias said.
“Our people are suffering…, our people are still under the yoke of the epidemic. The Liberian Senate feels that by [conducting elections] will show insensitivity to the plight of the Liberian people who have elected us.”
He added, “The Liberian Senate also recognized in their request an ambiguity to determine as to whether which area or county will be safe or not for the conduct of the election. We feel the election should be held comprehensively in the Republic of Liberia.”
On Tuesday, the House of Representatives endorsed the December 16, 2014 date as requested by NEC while the Liberian Senate resolved to Executive Session upon the receipt of a Joint Resolution on the 30th of December as the official date for the conduct of the Special Senatorial Election throughout the country.
The Senate proposed that NEC, the Agency of government authorized to hold public elections, is directed to schedule the commencement of the Campaign process for the 2014 senatorial elections the first week of December 2014; and that the conduct of election shall be held throughout the Republic on December 30, 2014. The House of Representatives’ version of the resolution called for the holding of election on 16th of December 2014 as requested by the NEC.
Meanwhile, NEC Chairman Cllr. Jerome Korkoya wrote the leadership of both houses that the new date was overwhelmingly accepted during consultations organized by NEC in collaboration with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) through the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) and the Electoral Assistance Division of the United Nations (UNEAD).
“I am further pleased to inform you that an overwhelming majority of those consulted proposed, and the Commission has concurred, that the Special Senatorial Election be conducted on December 16,” the NEC boss wrote.
However, he stressed that in the case of an upsurge of the Ebola virus in a particular county at the time of the election, the election in such affected county should be deferred and treated as by-election under Article 37 of the Constitution of Liberia.
The conduct of elections before 2015 has been met with mixed public reactions given the country’s prevailing medical emergency. Some say holding elections during the Ebola crisis is unhealthy and have stressed the need to postpone the exercise until next year since in fact election is about campaigning, which involves large gatherings of people which increase the risks of reversing the gains made against Ebola in Liberia thus far. Others say that if the election is not held before January 2015, there could be 15 vacancies in the Senate.
Article 46 of the Liberian constitution says that for the seat of a senator to be vacated at the end of his 9-year tenure: “The senator with the higher votes cast shall be the senator of the first category and the senator with least votes cast shall be the second category; provided that no two senators from a county shall be placed in the same category. The seat of the Senators of the first category shall be vacated at the expiration of the ninth year,” the Constitutions states.
Judging from the constitutional provision, the issue of vacancy in the Senate could be treated in keeping with Article 37 in an effort to obtain a simple majority of 16 senators needed to conduct legislative business.