The Supreme Court of Liberia has ruled in favor of the Collaborating Political Parties to have the pending December 8, 2020 referendum canceled, due to constitutional violations. The court, in a unanimous decision on Wednesday, November 18, granted the CPP’s request for a writ of prohibition and mandated the National Elections Commission (NEC) to abandon the referendum, which was to be held alongside the senatorial and representative by-elections.
The decision comes following a writ of prohibition filed at the Supreme Court by the Collaborating Political Parties (CPP) and numerous calls by various groups, including the Liberia National Bar Association (LNBA) and the Liberia Council of Churches, for the Elections Commission to leave the referendum out of the upcoming December 8 senatorial mid-term election.
Examining the constitutionality of CPP’s argument, the Supreme Court agreed with the CPP and held that the act of the Executive Branch of the Government of Liberia, in deviating from the clear language of the Resolution of the Legislature by combining and condensing the eight propositions into three categories, quite contrary to the provision of Article 92 of the Constitution which specifically mandates that each of the eight propositions be stated separately on the ballots to afford voters the opportunity to exercise their right of choice, the Government proceeded by the “wrong rules.”
“To the mind of this Court, this is a violation of the letters and intent of the Constitution and the citizens’ rights of choice. The court agrees with the petitioners that, should the 1st Respondent (National Elections Commission) be permitted to print the ballot papers based upon the published OfficialGazette, then and in that case, that will constitute proceeding by the wrong rule,” said the Court.
Consistent with Article 91 of the Liberian Constitution, the Legislature adopted a Joint Resolution, proposing a constitutional referendum to amend eight articles of the 1986 Constitution.
Contrary to the resolution, the Executive Branch of the Government, in an official Gazette published on October 8, 2019 in “Volume XIX, No. 52”, condensed the eight proposed amendments into three Ballot measures, on which the electorate would have been required to vote “Yes” or “No”.
In its argument, the CPP said the official gazette published by the government was not consistent with the clear mandate of Article 92 which, in relevant part, states: “If more than one proposed amendment is to be voted upon in a referendum, they shall be submitted in such manner that the people may vote for or against them separately.”
CPP argued further that collapsing the proposed amendments into three (3) ballot measures “Has far-reaching implications for the fairness, integrity, and transparency of the referendum, and hence the constitutional democracy that the process seeks to enhance.”
The CPP in its argument noted: “If for instance, a voter votes “YES” to ballot Measure Number 3, his or her “YES” vote automatically translates into the approval of all the proposed amendments that have been collapsed under ballot Measure Number 3.”
The political group said given the lack of adequate public education and awareness on the proposals, such a choice is not only unconstitutional but is tantamount to a deliberate attempt to entrapping the voter to a pre-determined outcome.
In the opinion of the Supreme Court, it is stated: “It being the finding of this Court that the Official Gazette is inconsistent with the dictate of the Constitution, prohibition will lie to prevent the 1st Respondent form relying thereupon in the execution of its functions. The Constitution provides that ballots for a referendum shall present the proposed amendments to the people in such a manner so as to avail them the opportunity to vote for or against them separately. With this Ruling, the Referendum, cannot take place until a new Gazette consistent with the Resolution of the Legislature is published, logos identified for the eight (8) proposed amendments, and public education and awareness conducted on the proposed amendments.”
Meanwhile, the condensed propositions that President George Weah has been pre-campaigning for without the National Elections Commission’s mandate include Dual Citizenship, Change of tenures of elected officials, and change of election date. These are the three on the surface with five others hidden thereunder that the electorate would have voted for in a lump-sum.
Legal experts have been skeptical about the change of the presidential tenure at this time, noting that if this is done, the certainty would exist that the current President would use this first tenure as a reason to contend that he is eligible to contest for additional two terms in the new tenure that may be agreed upon for the presidency.