What does the Kenya electoral saga signal for Liberia?
Kenya’s Supreme Court on Friday nullified President Uhuru Kenyatta’s election win last month and called for new elections within 60 days, with the opposition calling for the dissolution of the electoral body. The unprecedented ruling in the East African country is another milestone in the political history of that country and many feel it is a stunning victory for democracy — especially for an action against an incumbent African leader. The decision is a landmark case that has produced a landmark result—a precedence that could go a long way in strengthening democratic governance on the African continent which, until recently, was infamously known for its dictatorial style of governance.
So though it must have come as a surprise, not to President Kenyatta and his party, the cool reception by the Kenyans may have shocked the entire Africa—least to talk about the western world. Kenya’s Supreme Court’s decision was not only precipitated by irregularities in the electoral process but on grounds of violation of constitutional provisions—similar to what is being faced in the Liberian electoral process on dual citizenship, Code of Conduct and flaws associated with the Voter Registration process.
The ruling gives new hope to opposition leader Raila Odinga, who had alleged that the electronic results of the Aug. 8 balloting were manipulated. He lost by about 1.4 million votes out of roughly 15 million votes cast. The Kenya Supreme Court’s decision is the first judgment in Africa that has upset a presidential election. In the words of National Super Alliance (NASA) Party Lawyer, James Orengo, the Supreme Court has done Kenya proud and lived up to the principle and law regarding the election.
It also comes as a shock to the Africa Union (AU), which had already endorsed the results. Kenyatta had already received a barrage of congratulatory messages not just from the African continent but every part of the world, including some powerful countries.
But what does this landmark case and its unprecedented verdict mean for Liberia?
Liberians are poised to go to the polls on October 10 to elect a leader that would succeed Liberia and Africa’s first female elected president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, whose second term and 12-year rule comes to an end in early January 2018.
So far, the Liberian electoral process has had some controversies on issues from the Voter Registration and Exhibition exercises to the controversial Code of Conduct and the Dual Citizenship issues. President Sirleaf has called on the NEC to be dependable and must conduct a peaceful and transparent electoral process that would lead to a very smooth transition.
The VR Exhibition Wahala
The NEC’s VR exhibition was overshadowed by reports that the names and photos of many who had registered at the various centers across the country were missing. This pronouncement evoked huge doubts over the veracity of the final VR listing. Making matters worse, NEC chairman, Jerome George Korkoya, made a pronouncement that further exacerbated the skepticism over the entire VR process. However, the latest report on the issue published in Sando Moore Images magazine indicates the issue for the replacement of Lost and Damaged VR Cards was done from July 17 to July 22 at 99 Replacement Centers throughout the country. The NEC said it included 73 electoral districts, 19 magisterial offices and at seven shared electoral districts. The NEC later released what it termed as a summary of the final voter registration figures, with names, gender, age, districts, and locations, but left many wondering whether this listing addressed the issue of some missing names and photos linked to the Provisional Registration Roll (PRR).
It was against this backdrop that the Elections Coordinating Committee (ECC) called on the NEC to do all in its power to cultivate public confidence in the electoral exercise to ensure peaceful elections by executing all the phases of the electoral process in a more transparent manner.
ECC chairman Oscar Bloh, at the time, called on the NEC to make public the detailed VR that highlights the particulars of every voter as this will help political parties and independent candidates to better strategize for their campaign—because by then they would have known where the major constituents are and who to target. “But since we made this call a few weeks ago the NEC is yet to respond by doing the appropriate thing,” Mr. Bloh said.
The ECC’s argument was from the backdrop that the registration process was marred by several irregularities especially with registration taking place in private homes, with some individuals arrested and registration materials seized. The area of contention, though, was that if indeed everyone with a valid voter card, which would probably include those that registered at private centers, are to be allowed to vote as the NEC chairman indicated, where is the transparency in the electoral process?
To help remedy the situation, the ECC also called on NEC to make available its electronic voter list to relevant partners in an effort to ensure transparency in the process. The NEC’s publication of the final voters roll shows only aggregate figures and does not include names and photos of the eligible voters. Many have been calling on the electoral body to release the full final listing. With 35 days to elections, this is the first time in recent elections that the VRR is yet to be made public. The releasing of the VRR, many believe, should not be optional for the NEC as it is mandated by the country’s electoral laws. The VRR, according to the law, should have been released before the start of campaign exercises. Mr. John Stewart, an eminent Liberian, could not have put it any better, “How in the world then can the accuracy, reliability, and credibility of the voters roll be established? Where are the opposition parties and why are their voices not being heard on such an all important issue? Where is George Weah’s CDC in all of this since they boast of being the largest opposition party? Ha! Trouble is brewing o.” Mr. Stewart was a commissioner of the erstwhile TRC.
Confusion has been generated of late by claims and counter claims regarding Liberians who are holders of American passports, especially the NEC chairman and some presidential and legislative candidates. The Liberian constitution forbids dual citizenship and as such only allows Liberian citizens to partake in the electoral process in the country. Others also accused include standard bearers of the CDC and ANC, George Weah, and Alexander Cummings.
Korkoya was accused of being a US citizen and as such he should not preside over the country’s electoral matters. Though he couldn’t deny it, he insisted that he is a Liberian and said anyone who felt offended should take him to court. He was later sued by National Democratic Coalition (NDC), where the court said that the NDC didn’t have the power to prosecute the NEC boss—a power that only lies in the purview of the state.
The question now is what happens when one protests, on a constitutional ground, the result of the elections if any of these alleged foreigners eventually wins or says that the process was influenced by an outsider?
Code of Conduct
The most contentious issue of the election so far has been the Code of Conduct, which bans appointed officials of government from contesting elective posts until they must have resigned two/three years prior to the elections. The issue was put to test when NEC in early July rejected both the former managing director of the Forestry Development Authority (FDA), running mate to Liberty Party’s Charles Walker Brumskine and Jeremiah Sulunteh, a former Ambassador to the United States, running mate to Mr. Alexander Cummings, standard bearer of the Alternative National Congress (ANC) from participating in the elections as specified in Sections 5.1 and 5.2 of the code. But the Supreme Court said Karnwea’s violation of the Code of Conduct was not as egregious and the NEC should instead find an alternative punishment instead of debarment.
That controversial ruling opened a floodgate for active government officials who had the desire of participating in the elections—many of them were later certificated by the NEC. This decision almost brought a stalemate in the government as the Legislative and Judiciary, in what appeared to be a show of power, tried to impeach each other.
Meanwhile, what happened in Kenya and what is happening in Liberia are held together by Constitutions of the two countries.
“Don’t compare us to Kenya. Liberia’s Supreme Court decisions are paid to play!” female Liberian journalist Wade Williams posted on her Facebook page. “I’m wondering whether the decision made by the high court in Kenya would have been the same in Liberia even with similar facts and circumstances. A totally independent Judiciary is the bedrock of any democratic society. I really doubted this outcome especially in Africa,” another Liberian journalist, Al-Varney Roger, said.
Whatever the case, there are instructive lessons Liberians can learn from Kenya’s historic Supreme Court decision.