The Associate Justice Presiding in Chamber, Cllr. Philip A. Z. Banks’ decision was the result of a petition to halt any other proceedings on the part of NEC, because the ongoing electioneering process is a threat to public health against the spread and transmission of the deadly Ebola Virus Disease (EVD).
The lawsuit against NEC was jointly filed by several institutions and individuals including the Concerned Group of Eminent Citizens, the Movement for Progressive Change (MPC) and Leaders of Political Parties. Others were the Civil Society Organizations by and thru its Spokespersons Blamoh Nelson and J. Emmanuel Z. Bowier, John Ballon, Milton and Nathaniel Barnes.
Justice Banks did not say how soon the full bench would hear the matter and make its final determination, but NEC now has four days from the date the stay order was issued, to present its case to the Supreme Court as to why the elections should continue as planned.
The Supreme Court will then decide whether or not to endorse Associate Justice Banks’ ruling, which could cause the election date to be further postponed if Banks’ ruling stands.
A key concern among many is what becomes of the expenses undertaken by candidates, political parties and the NEC.
The Chamber Justice’s decision coincided with the launching of the campaign of Amb. George Manneh Weah, standard bearer and Montserrado County senatorial candidate for the opposition Congress for Democratic Change (CDC). The CDC campaign launch drew tens of thousands of people in a parade through Monrovia which literally brought the city to a standstill.
According to the Justice in Chamber, the senatorial election which is scheduled for December 16, must be suspended pending hearing by the full bench of the Supreme Court, after listening to arguments.
Justifying his action, Justice Banks said, he did it in accordance with the law, but clarified that the entire full bench would determine the next step, including whether the election process should be postponed in the midst of Ebola or if the NEC has put into place necessary preventive measure to stop the spread and transmission of the deadly virus.
He was quick to point out that there is no Supreme Court justice can single-handedly determine the matter, adding, “Because it involves [a] constitutional issue, which required the full participation of the five justices of the High Court.”
“The decision has to be made by the full bench to provide finality to this constitutional dispute and to ensure a lawful election,” Associate Justice Banks wrote in Friday’s decision.
He also instructed the NEC to file all necessary legal documents supporting its legibility to hold the special senatorial elections within the period of four days.
Election officials met Saturday to determine the next steps and asked attorneys for clarification on the Supreme Court order, including whether the entire special election which political parties and independent candidates have plunged themselves into making huge financial expenditure should be postponed or just campaign activities.
In their complaint to the High Court, the lawyers based their argument on the proclamation made by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf regarding the protection of public health against the spread and transmission of the Ebola Virus Disease.
“As the sole reason for suspending the voting rights of the Liberian people… the virus continues to threaten public health,” emphasizing that “the ongoing election activities represent a significant act of the complacency and a serious denial by Ministry of Justice (MOJ) that Ebola is invisible, that it is real that it has no cure… that it has killed and continues to kill thousands of Liberians; and could kill even more if such mass-based activities such as an election are allowed.”
They further argued that the legal way to address the default of Article 83 (a) and to, at the same time, protect public health against the risk of spreading and transmitting the Ebola Virus Disease, (EVD), and the legitimacy of the tenure of the administration, is to revert to Article -1, “whereby a cross-representative forum of political parties and civil society organizations with legal and national character can be convened by the President, with the approval of the Legislature to set a suitable date for the conduct of the Special Senatorial Election,” concluding “while, at the same time protecting the Administration from losing its legitimacy over the issue of the Article 83(a). “
Article -1 of the 1986 Constitution acknowledges and affirms that “All power is inherent in the People In order to ensure democratic government which responds to the wishes of the governed, the people shall have the right at such period, and in such manner as provided for under this Constitution to cause their public servants to leave office and to fill vacancies by regular elections and appointments.”
It can be recalled that on October 1, 2014, the President wrote the legislature requesting approval to restrict, suspend and re-phrase the language of several provisions of the 1986 Constitution relating to the “…fundamental rights of Liberian citizens” as provided for under Articles 1, 12, 13, 14, 15, 17, and 24
Three days later, on October 4, 2014, the President issued a Proclamation stating that National Elections Commission (NEC) had “informed the government that it (NEC ) had been unable to undertake several of the processes that are prerequisites to conducting the pending 2014 Senatorial elections, including: the deployment of staff in the field to conduct civic/voter education; the recruitment and deployment of the required polling staff at polling centers; the importation of basic, essential and sensitive electoral material.”
She added that, “due to the suspension of flights to Liberia, the requisite campaigning of senatorial candidates and the monitoring of the process and activities by the NEC to ensure that there are no violations of the Elections Law and that violations are adequately addressed… the government is convinced that the condition of elections in this period of the Ebola Virus crisis would not only be inimical to the nation and to its people, but would create greater problems for the stability of the nation and a lack of credibility in the result of such elections by the people and the international community under the current crisis situation.”
Concluding the Proclamation, the President ordered and declared “the October 14, 2014 Senatorial Elections and all the voting rights associated therewith and connected thereto are hereby declared suspended.”
Nine days after promulgation of the Proclamation, the Legislature, on October 13, 2014, passed a Joint Resolution #002/2014 approving the President’s order suspending the October 14, 2014 Senatorial election and, at the same time, directing the NEC to “immediately commence consultations and discussions with all recognized and accredited political parties, independent candidates, civil society organizations and other stakeholders, as well as national and international health authorities on a new date for the holding of the Senatorial election for 2014; not later than December 20, 2014, pending the approval of the Legislature.”