It appears as though it is by circumstance or happenstance that legislative by-elections for Montserrado county, scheduled to have been held on July 8, 2019 have now been twice postponed to no certain date. The current postponement closely mirrors the NEC’s postponement of the Bong and Montserrado counties by-elections in 2018.
Recalling history, in its July 3, 2018 edition, the Daily Observer reported that the senatorial by-elections had been postponed by the NEC owing to what the Commission termed at the time as a lack of money.
The NEC Chairman, according to the story had requested an amount of US$3.9 million to hold the elections but Finance Minister Tweah had insisted that GOL did not have that kind of money to underwrite the elections. This prompted the NEC to postpone the elections to July 29, 2018.
Similarly, as in 2018, the Montserrado County by-elections have now been twice postponed by the NEC due to what its chairman Jerome Korkoya says is the lack of money. He has reportedly asked for an additional US$1 million to hold the elections the lack of which has occasioned this latest postponement. But the problem is this latest request by the NEC Chairman appears suspect.
This newspaper recalls that during the 2014 Special Senatorial elections, for example, the cost of ballots, was stated in excess of US$275,000, double the actual costs (according to former Budget and Finance Director, Joseph Duwana). Meanwhile the cost of elections materials was stated in excess of US$300,000 and the cost of vehicles overstated in excess of US$200,000. NEC actually requested and received US$1.9 million for vehicles, none of which went to the purchase of vehicles.
And now in 2019 like in 2017, the NEC has drawn fire from the public amid a welter of charges of attempted fraud on the part of NEC, acting allegedly in concert with the ruling party. But more to that, the postponement is tantamount to a violation of Article 37 of the Constitution of Liberia quoted below:
“In the event of a vacancy in the Legislature caused by death, resignation, expulsion or otherwise, the Presiding officer shall within 30 days notify the Elections Commission thereof. The Elections Commission shall, not later than 90 days thereafter cause a by-election to be held, provided that where such vacancy occurs within 90 days prior to the holding of general elections, the filling of the vacancy shall await the holding of such general elections.”
Considered against this Constitutional provision, the NEC is clearly in violation of Article 37 of the Constitution specifying the timeframe within which a by-election should be held. And this newspaper notes that this is not the first time such breaches against the Constitution have been made by the NEC. And this has invariably given rise to public apprehensions about the integrity and fairness of the impending polls.
Recalling the 2014 Special Senatorial elections, the handling of it produced such a huge chorus of discontent and disputations that eventually wound up in the Supreme Court. And the Court delayed adjudication of the cases for a prolonged period for unexplained reasons.
Some of the cases were settled through political compromise like the case between incumbent Senator Jewel Howard Taylor and challenger Henrique Tokpa, while the rest were settled but not without controversy over the outcomes such as the burning of ballots from River Gee County well before the Supreme Court had decided the matter.
In the situation at bar, opposition political parties have expressed alarm over what they claim are attempts on the part of NEC Chairman to rig the elections. At the heart of the matter is the integrity of the Voters Roll, which is key to holding free, fair, credible and transparent elections.
The furore raised by opposition parties over the recent exercise involving the replacement of Voter registration cards is not without foundation judging by the experience of the 2017 General elections.
Several parties, including the then ruling Unity Party, had filed complaints before the Supreme Court accusing the NEC of compromising the Voters Roll through a number of fraudulent acts including double registration and illegal registration including cross-border registration. Based on its findings, the Supreme Court concurred and ordered a clean-up of the Voters Rolls. But the NEC failed to do so and proceeded to conduct the elections on the basis of a compromised Voters Roll.
As a matter of fact, at the time NEC said it was doing the clean-up of the Voters Rolls as had been mandated by the Supreme Court, it had nevertheless placed the same corrupted Voters Rolls on display at a remote village in Kolahun District, Lofa County.
As regards the current situation, following the replacement of lost or damaged Voter cards, validation and publication of the Voters Rolls as well as the designation of polling places should follow. Up to present and despite the fact the elections have now been twice postponed, the validation and publication of the Voters rolls including the designation of polling places, have not been done.
As a matter of fact, the key question is how can Liberians trust Korkoya to handle these elections, given his controversial track record beclouded with charges of corruption including his US citizenship which renders him legally incompetent to hold such a post.
And can Liberians trust that the actual number of ballots printed by NEC for these by-elections does not far exceed requirements as was the case during the 2017 general elections when ballots were printed far in excess of requirements?
This is very important in view of contentions by opposition parties that NEC Chairman Jerome Korkoya is acting in complicity with the ruling party to rig the results. And so the question remains: CAN KORKOYA BE TRUSTED WITH THESE BY-ELECTIONS?