The recent Supreme Court’s decision barring NEC from holding the referendum alongside the December 8, 2020 elections has been welcome by civil society and the public at large. The Court took the decision following a petition filed by the Collaborating Political Parties (CPP) seeking to bar NEC from holding the referendum on December 8.
But while the Court’s decision has been welcomed by the public, the NEC Chairperson has insisted that the referendum will go ahead in keeping with law. Just which law(s) she had referenced to support her assertion remains unclear.
However, a leading lawyer has told the Daily Observer that based on experience from the 2017 elections, it should come as no surprise that the NEC has openly declared that shall instead, proceed with the referendum meaning that it shall not respect the opinion of the Court.
Such was the case in 2017 when the NEC ignored, with impunity, the mandate/decision of the Supreme Court to have the Voters’ Roll (VR) cleaned-up before holding the presidential runoff elections.
According to the lawyer, should NEC ignore the Supreme Court ban and proceed with the referendum, it will be in contravention of the law and may very well create problems of legitimacy of the referendum and elections results and, by extension, the legitimacy of the government itself.
In such a case, parties may find themselves with little choice other than to return to the Supreme Court with a petition to have the referendum results annulled.
In its Writ of Prohibition filed before the Supreme Court, the CPP maintained that the Government of Liberia published an official gazette on the referendum, which was inconsistent with Article 92 of the Constitution.
Article 92 reads as follows:
“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.”
In view of this, it appears obvious that the parties will return to the Court to seek redress. And it could result in long drawn-out legal battles that would only serve to further heighten tension akin to the 2017 experience and only God knows what could happen.
However, should the parties fail to get redress, the other available option could be a resort to the ECOWAS Court of Justice for a determination on the matter just as it was in the Justice Ja’neh’s case.
The concern is, even should the ECOWAS Court rule in favor of the parties, enforceability will prove a very daunting challenge particularly if the government refuses to respect or abide by the decisions of that body.
But welcoming the decision taken by the Supreme Court which ruled in favor of the Writ of Prohibition filed by the CPP, the National Civil Society Council of Liberia (NCSCL) said nationwide consultations with civil society organizations across the length and breadth of Liberia has established that holding the referendum as scheduled alongside the elections would have caused the country more harm than good.
Moreover the Civil Society Council appears to support the CPP’s argument that “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.”
The CPP had also argued that if the referendum goes ahead, all three (3) propositions to reduce the tenures of the President and representatives from six to five years, and the senators from nine to six years—would have one “Yes” or “No” voting option.
In such a case, they argued, “there would have been no way for a voter to cast their ballot individually on each preposition”.
They further maintained that the lack of adequate public education and awareness on the proposals rendered unconstitutional any choice made along such lines as framed in the proposals arguing that such was “tantamount to a deliberate attempt to entrapping the voter to a pre-determined outcome”.
However, such expressed concerns are, it appears, of little import to the NEC Board of Commissioners whose chairperson has declared that the referendum will go ahead despite the Supreme Court’s decision prohibiting it.
And it appears, according to political observers, she has support from the highest political level sufficient enough to clothe her with the temerity to offer such affront to the Supreme Court declaring that the referendum will go ahead as planned despite the prohibition slammed on it by the Court.
By all accounts, the NEC Chairperson, Davidetta Browne Lansanah is proceeding wrongly and recklessly according to several leading lawyers (names withheld) and she will ultimately be held to account for the confusion which is certain to follow.
And they cited what they call NEC’s bogus claims of registering 299,000 out of a projected 300,000 new voters as a key contributing factor compounding the clean-up of the VR which according to them is highly unlikely to be completed before the December 8 elections date.
Whatever the case, the tension is rising by the day and as the Daily Observer has repeatedly and consistently maintained, at the end of the day, it will all come to bear on President Weah as head of this nation.
It is there, in his court, the ball will come to rest and he should remain ever mindful of this.
As it appears, the die is cast but the omens do not look good for a free, fair, transparent and above all, peaceful election. He should therefore “Beware the ides of December”.