The Elections Coordinating Committee, (ECC) adding its voice to President Weah’s proposal to abolish by-elections because of cost implications, has concurred and put pen to paper indicating their agreement with the proposal. In the opinion of this newspaper, this is one laden with dangerous implications to the wellbeing of our nascent democracy as such constitutes a further erosion of rights guaranteed under the Constitution, all in the name of saving a few dollars.
The Daily Observer recalls that a similar proposal was advanced by President Sirleaf during her quest for a second term in 2011. The 1986 Constitution provided for a two-thirds absolute majority requirement for elections to the national legislature. The spirit and intent of this provision was meant to address what was as far back then recognized that the country had become deeply polarized especially since the 1979 “Rice Riots”. The 1980 military coup and its attending effects, as well as the 1985 abortive invasion led by General Thomas Quiwonkpa, who was subsequently killed, followed by reprisals against his ethnic kinsmen, further exacerbated the divide.
Thus, it was by no means surprising that the absolute majority requirement was provided for in the Constitution, clearly because the framers of the Constitution were guided by such considerations. President Sirleaf, during her quest for a second term of office, submitted to the National Legislature a bill proposing an amendment to Article 83 (b) which reads as follows:
All elections of public officers shall be determined by an absolute majority of the votes cast. If no candidate obtains an absolute majority in the first ballot, a second ballot shall be conducted on the second Tuesday following. The two candidates who received the greatest numbers of votes on the first ballot shall be designated to participate in the run off election.
President Sirleaf proposed an amendment to this provision to have elections on a simple majority basis and her argument was that this provision of the Constitution was cost prohibitive and thus she sought to have it changed. Her proposed bill was approved by the Legislature and was placed on the agenda for Referendum. Her proposed amendment was however defeated at the referendum but she took her case to the Supreme Court which overturned the people’s choice and decision by judicial fiat.
The results of such dangerous tweak of the Constitution under the watch of President Sirleaf have been plain and evident with the unprecedented spate of elections related complaints surfacing before the Supreme Court. In terms of the polarizing effects, perhaps nowhere has this been more glaring than Nimba County where contestants have been at each other’s throat. Currently there are a number of legislators who lack legitimacy as they won by slim double-digit figures and the fights have been dogged, leaving communities deeply divided.
This newspaper warns that this proposal is like playing with fire and the Liberian people ought to soundly reject this proposition at the Polls. More to this, the Daily Observer is constrained to question just why this civil society group has failed to advocate for a return to constituency-based election to replace the aberration currently in place (Electoral Districts) which have no fixed population figures and have resultantly lent to trucking of voters from one District to the next.
Under the current aberration, which is unconstitutional, some counties like Bong, Nimba, Lofa etc. are underrepresented in the National Legislature but this self-acclaimed body of Elections Coordinators (ECC) appears unconcerned. Such aloofness, feigned or real, conveys an impression rightly or wrongly that the ECC funders have not included such concerns on their laundry list of must-dos before elections. Rather disappointingly, it has shifted its focus to support a proposal which from both hindsight and foresight is sure breed confusion and to further erode hard earned democratic gains.
Additionally, this ECC needs to understand that proper national economic and development planning cannot be done in the absence of the conduct of a national census, the results of which are used to demarcate constituencies based on a population threshold which shall be established by the Legislature.
This country has experimented with the system of proportional representation and the results showed that basic civil liberties under the President (Charles Taylor) elected on this basis were severely undermined and eventually the country relapsed into renewed civil war. This proposal to abolish by-elections simply means taking away the power of the people to decide who represents them and placing it in the hands of a single individual or a few. This is contemptuous of the Liberian people and it is completely unacceptable.
And the ECC perhaps need to be reminded that because it claims to have canvassed public opinion on this matter it does not by any means imply that because the ECC says so, the Liberian people will swallow it, hook and sinker. Investment in elections, be they by-elections or what have you, is an investment in peace and such should not be overlooked nor downplayed.
In fact, such investment pales by far in comparison to the millions of dollars lost annually to corruption. Consider for example, how many by-elections could have been held with the monies (US$33,492,101) stolen under the Executive Mansion renovation project. The ECC’s declared support for this new proposal is but an incubus in embryonic state. The Liberian people must never allow it to be born.
Behold the EEC’s Incubus! Its fetus must be aborted forthwith!