A complaint filed by the ruling Unity Party (UP) against the National Elections Commission (NEC) for scheduling the December 26 runoff presidential elections has exposed many ambiguities in the Supreme Court opinion, on which the electoral body relied to set the date.
In their case against the December 26 date set for the runoff, the party argued that the opinion (judgment) ordering a runoff election should be held in accordance with the “Constitution and Election Law,” which “did not state when the election shall be held.”
“All that it said was that before a runoff election is held, the Final Registration Roll (FRR) should be cleaned and sanitized and published in hard copies at the offices of the election magistrates and at each polling place,” the UP said.
“But, when exactly after the clearing and sanitizing of the FRR and its publication at the offices of election magistrates and polling places prior to the runoff should (the runoff) be held?” the complaint wondered.
The lawsuit also emphasized that “the court did not say, the maximum period between the publication of the sanitized FRR and the conduct of the run-off election should be 30 days since this is the period before an election within which the FRR may not be altered.”
“The opinion inadvertently failed to pass on this issue, and so it appeared to (be) the NEC’s discretion as to when to order the run-off election as mandated by the court, but this certainly was not the court’s intention,” UP said.
More importantly, UP said, “NEC cannot and should not unilaterally set the run-off election date, they should request for a joint resolution of both the House of Representative and the Senate, which set the actual date for the run-off.”
“It is necessary for the court to state particularly and specificity the time frame within which the activities mandated specifically for the cleaning-up of the FRR and its publication should take place otherwise, the NEC might capriciously and whimsically set a date for the run-off election as it has done, which does not give voters sufficient time to inspect the cleaned, sanitized and publicized FRR before the run-off election takes place,” the UP argued.
The UP complaint also said, “We pray the court that the run-off shall not take place less than 40 days after the cleaned sanitized FRR has been fully published all around the country. 15 days shall be for the time period for public challenges to the cleaned, sanitized FRR and 30 days shall be the legal time immediately before an election that its FRR is altered.”
“The mandate of the court to the NEC to conduct the run-off in accordance with the Constitution and Election Law and at the same time to comply with the mandate prior to conducting the run-off is instructive and it appears that the NEC did not fully understand the instruction, which simply means that for the Legislature to set the date for the run-off election,” UP contends.
The court on November 7 lifted its stay order that was placed on the NEC’s earlier decision to hold the runoff on November 10 and subsequently mandated the electoral process to proceed in accordance with the Constitution and Elections Law.
The stay order resulted from a complaint filed to the court by Liberty Party (LP) claiming that the October 10 presidential and legislative elections were characterized by irregularities and fraud opting for a rerun of the entire exercise.
Meanwhile, the UP has rejected assertions by NEC that it has, in agreement with the parties, developed a five-count proposal containing steps to be taken to clean up the FRR. According to NEC, the agreement was reached during a meeting held with the parties late last week. Mr. Cole Bangalu, a UP representative to the talks, told the Daily Observer that contrary to the NEC statement, the ECOWAS unveiled what it considered steps to be taken in the clean up of the FRR.
He observed that the ECOWAS team noted that it did not fix any timeline to the completion of the clean-up task since it had not yet determined the full extent of the work needed to be done.
Mr. Bangalu said it was premature for the NEC to have announced a runoff date when the magnitude and scope of work had not been determined, a development which raises questions whether the ECOWAS can accomplish the task given the very tight time constraints imposed by NEC’s arbitrary setting of a run-off date.