The Supreme Court is expected to hand down its ruling on the writ of mandamus filed by the opposition Collaborating Political Parties, praying the Court to compel the National Elections Commission, the House of Representatives and the Executive Branch of the government to conduct the Representative by-election in both Montserrado and Sinoe Counties on or before October 28, 2020.
The Court ruling, which is expected today, will focus on whether the House of Representatives was in error to declare the by-elections in Montserrado and Sinoe Counties Districts #9 and #2, respectively, to be held on December 8, 2020.
Both by-elections came as a result of the sudden death of Reps. Munah Pelham-Youngblood on July 8, 2020, and J. Nagbe Sloh on June 30, 2020. The latter was a lawmaker for Montserrado County District #9, while the former represented Sinoe County District #2.
The Court ruling today comes after lawyers of the CPP and the National Elections Commission, the House of Representatives and the Executive Branch of the government rested with the production of oral evidence in defense for and against the holding of the Representative by-elections on December 8, 2020.
NEC and the rest of the defendants — the House of Representatives and the Executive — told the Court that it is constitutionally limited both in “scope and character to mandate, compel or instruct the Legislature to perform its duties, yet the CPP chose to file this petition that is not seeking a judicial review, interpretation and declaration of the action and activities of the legislature.”
Defendants’ lawyers added that the CPP has not demonstrated any evidence that the legislature failed to support the by-election process as it being insinuated in their writ of mandamus.
They also argued that the CPP’s complaint is absolutely irrelevant and “should therefore be disregarded by the court as a complete waste of time” since the House of Representatives has effectively made the declaration regarding the existence of the two vacancies as in keeping with article 37 of the 1986 Constitution.
But for the CPP lawyers, this not the case, as the Legislature’s disregard for the country’s constitution notified NEC of the death of Sloh on September 10, 2020, seventy–two (72) days after his death, while in the case of Rep. Youngblood, NEC was notified on September 10, sixty-four (64) days after her death, instead of notifying NEC within 30 days of the vacancies as mandated by Article 37 of the 1986 Constitution.
Article 37 of the Constitution states that: “In the event of a vacancy in the Legislature caused by death, resignation, expulsion or otherwise, the presiding officer shall within 30 days notify the Elections Commission thereof. The Elections Commission shall not later than 90 days thereafter cause a by-election to be held; provided that where such vacancy occurs within 90 days prior to the holding of general elections, the filling of the vacancy shall await the holding of such general elections.”
Earlier, the CPP informed the court that the NEC’s unilateral announcement without the involvement of the political parties to conduct the by-elections to fill the two vacancies on December 8 “is a deliberate, calculated, wanton and vicious assault on the letter and spirit of the 1986 Constitution and with callous disregard for its consequences.”
“It shows how gravely unmindful the NEC has become of its constitutional duty and the fundamental laws of the country. The pronouncement made by the NEC to the effect that it will conduct the by-elections to fill the existing vacancies in the House of Representatives on December 8 is an act completely without the pale of the law,” the lawsuit said.
“Therefore,” the lawsuit argued, the “Issuance of the writ of mandamus is instructing the NEC to perform its constitutional and statutory duty by conducting the pending by-elections in strict conformity with the constitutionally mandated timelines.”
In a related development, the chairman of the House of Representative Judiciary Committee, Cllr. J. Fonati Koffa has said that the delay in communication with NEC was prudent due to several factors including “resource constraints that may have compelled the House to adjust the elections’ date.”
Yet Rep. Koffa did not name those resource constraints.
“We have to understand that even in the context of the sphere of our democracy, there are always resource issues. We combined them together is because it is easier to conduct the process,” Rep. Koffa explained. “There is no great harm that is going to happen as a result of that. So, to me, it becomes a political question. And when the court is faced with a political question, it generally defers to the political branch of government.”
Rep. Koffa added that though he is not pre-judging what the Justice-in-Chamber is going to say, he believes that the CPP’s writ of mandamus will not go anywhere, as it will “fall flat.”
“The writ of mandamus must fall flat on its face. I am not going to pre-judge what the Justice-in-Chamber is going to say, but let’s go back and look at the contradiction. You are complaining about the voter roll to be cleaned, at the same time, you are calling for the by-elections of Montserrado District #9 and Sinoe District #2 to come forward. It does not make sense. It appears to be dilatory tactics because while you are complaining about the clean-up of the voter roll, you cannot also be saying bring the elections back and have it now,” he said.