The Liberian Senate is expected to debate a bill submitted by Grand Cape Mount County Senator Henry Varney Gboto-Nambi Sherman, seeking clarification on the powers and authority of the National Elections Commission with respect to the qualification of political parties and organizations and independent candidates for the ensuing election(s). Senator Sherman, who chairs the Senate Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights, Claims & Petitions, recently submitted the bill. Last week, the Senate constituted itself into a committee to debate the strongly-worded bill; but, after almost two hours of deliberation, it gave the bill a cautious welcome and voted to send it back to committee’s room for adjustments and a final report to ready it for final debate.
According to Senator Sherman, the bill which also seeks clarification on the determination of election results and election disputes, has become necessary because of decisions of the Supreme Court growing out of contestation of election results by candidates in the 2014 Senatorial mid-term elections. “In those (2014 Senatorial election disputes) decisions the Supreme Court ruled, among other things, that it, not the NEC, is the determiner of election results and that an appeal to the Supreme Court from the decision of the National Election Commission on election results serve as a stay on the decision of the NEC.”
During Thursday’s debate, Senator Sherman made an emotional reflection on the December 2014 Special Senatorial Election, in which decisions to allow four Senators, declared winners by NEC, to take their seats, was delayed due to complaints to the Supreme Court by the defeated candidates.
“Obviously, there is no need for the interpretation that it is the National Elections Commission, not the Supreme Court, which has the power and authority to determine election results,” Senator Sherman noted, and further argued that “by the Supreme Court’s ruling that an appeal to it from a decision of NEC on election results stay that decision, counties were denied their rights under the Constitution to representation at the Liberian Senate over a long period of time.” Sherman named himself and Senators Jim Tornolah of Margibi, Gbleh-Bo Brown of Maryland, and Conmany Wesseh of River Gee counties as casualties of that delay. Referencing the Constitution, Senator Sherman quoted Article 83(c) which provides that returns (results) of an election shall be declared by the National Elections Commission; and that Section 4.14 of the 2004 amendment to the Elections Law provides that NEC shall collect all the tabulated results of the elections and announce the returns not later than fifteen (15) days after the elections.
Senators (in their numbers) who welcomed the bill suggested that the time stipulated for the Supreme Court to render judgment is not sufficient; while some even suggested that the two months (November and December) after the October polls and before the January inauguration be allotted for the Supreme Court’s investigation of election complaints. One of the sticky contentions raised by some Senators, however, is what happens (with respect to financial compensation) if the candidate declared by NEC as the winner in an election takes the seat, but is later found guilty by the Supreme Court. The argument then ensued that to avoid such entanglement, the NEC should remain the only authority to declare the legitimate winner in an election it conducts. Certainly, Cllr Sherman asserted, “The ruling of the Supreme Court that an appeal to it from challenges to election results serves as a stay to the implementation of the decision of the National Elections Commission, constitutes a violation of the constitutional rights of counties’ representation in the Legislature, or to whatever other office of the Liberian government for which an election was held.”
To preserve this constitutional right, Senator Sherman’s draft law provides that “an appeal to the Supreme Court would not serve as a stay of the decision of the NEC on disputes over election results or any other election dispute. This draft law also shortens the time for election disputes to be disposed of by the National Election Commission and the Supreme Court so as to ensure that a successful candidate at an election is timely inducted into office,” he said, calling for “the expeditious enactment of this draft into law so as to govern the ensuing October 2017 elections.”