By William Q. Harmon
It was meant to create a platform to ensure a peaceful electoral process that could subsequently culminate into a smooth transition in Liberia for the first time in over 73 years. But that is far from reality and unfortunately the National Political Forum has created more animosity than unity, all triggered by the controversial Code of Conduct.
The Ballroom of the Monrovia City Hall was a scene of heated debates and angry outbursts as the issue of the Code of Conduct was brought up for discussion by a member of the steering committee, Dr. Benjamin Lartey, who served as the Master of Ceremonies at the beginning of the two-day National Political Forum (NPF).
The Forum, which appeared to be an effort to diffuse the tremendous tension generated in the country since the upholding of the constitutionality of the Code of Conduct (CoC) by the Supreme Court of Liberia, ended in anger for some participants, especially the chairman of the Movement for Economic Empowerment (MOVEE), D. Maxwell Kemayan.
MOVEE’s J. Mills Jones and ANC’s Alex Cummings’ political aspirations are at stake with the CoC. The Forum, according to Mr. Theodore Momo, Jr, chairman of All Liberian Party (ALP), began with the premise that it is “unduly redundant, in light of the fact that there is already an Inter-Party Consultative Committee at the National Elections Commission which addresses the identical issues that are being raised.”
Many opposition leaders in attendance said they believe that the intent of the forum is to find common ground on the Supreme Court’s ruling on the CoC, and they attended the gathering prepared to object to it.
“We already knew that this Forum would have boiled down to the most contentious issue in the ensuing elections, the controversial Code of Conduct and we will ensure that the law is upheld,” ALP’s Momo said.
The ALP had previously objected to attending the forum.
Many of the participants were not sure that the Forum could have much of an impact than what had been done in the past. Those from the Coalition for Democratic Change, ALP and others wondered: “Can this Forum make any difference from the one already agreed to at the National Elections Commission?”
The chairman of the Coalition for Democratic Change, Nathaniel McGill, said, “I’m not sure if this two-day gathering will make much difference; otherwise, the political parties have already committed themselves to create conditions for a violence free electoral process.
“We cannot answer on the issues of the Code of Conduct if we even continue this for the next year because the Supreme Court has spoken and we must abide by this law of our land,” he added.
McGill said anyone who has any problem with the Code of Conduct should go to court and “any pertinent issue should not be discussed at a forum of just a few persons.”
Many of the political parties at the Forum are in favor of the controversial Code of Conduct and want it to be enforced to the letter, but said they are afraid that the gathering is intended to influence the discussion on the relaxation of certain parts of the Code of Conduct.
“We cannot allow this to happen here. The law must be respected,” a female participant said as the hall became noisier.
The only parties that had dissenting views on the implementation of the Code of Conduct were MOVEE and the ruling Unity Party.
The Forum is an initiative of the Government and it is being implemented by the Inter-Religious Council of Liberia. The steering committee of the forum is chaired by Episcopal Church of Liberia Bishop Jonathan B. B. Hart, who indicated that the committee cannot do anything on its own and would rather document all the deliberations at the Forum for onward presentation to the Government for implementation
The CoC and a new threshold for the holding of the October elections were two of the many resolutions that were drafted by political parties at the Ganta Meeting in Nimba County.
On the issue of the threshold, it was unanimously agreed that a communication should be sent to the National Legislature so that body can resolve to use the 2011 threshold for this year as time is no longer there for a new threshold to be considered. Thresholds are adapted from the results of a national census, and Liberia’s next census is 2018, as such it puts the country in a very critical position in that regard.
“We have come to deliberate on potential conflict triggers but this seems to be definitely not the case as we are allowing ourselves to discuss the Code of Conduct and see the rationality in letting everyone participate in this election. I don’t think we are treading on the right path,” Kemayan said.
Representatives of all the 22 political parties were present at the opening session of the program where President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, House Speaker Emmanuel Nuquay, UNMIL SRSG Farid Zarif and head of the Civil Society Organizations (CSOs), Frances Greaves, made comments calling for a fair, transparent and inclusive electoral process.
The outcome of the first day of the forum is indeed far from what many had thought and even nothing near its intended objective. Today’s meeting might just be full of tension. This is not good for the country when one considers that these political actors are expected to sign the Farmington River Declaration, committing themselves to peaceful elections on Sunday, July 4.