Our Senatorial Correspondent J. Burgess Carter on Monday gave the public an analytical story on the debate currently taking place in the Liberian Senate. It has to do with the proliferation of political parties in Liberia.
Key members of the Senate, the President Pro-Tempore, Armah Jallah, and the vocal Senator from Grand Bassa, Nyonblee Karnga Lawrence, forcefully argued that there are simply too many political parties in our small country of four million people. This, they warned, “is totally disingenuous to national integration, peaceful coexistence and national unity as expressed in Article 5 (a) of the Liberian Constitution.”
Article 5 (a) states: “The Republic shall: aim at strengthening the national integration and unity of the people of Liberia, regardless of ethnic, regional or other differences, into one body politic; and the Legislature shall enact laws promoting national unification and the encouragement of all citizens to participate in government . . .”
In their letter to plenary, the Senators, Pro-Temp Jallah and A.V. Gueh of Gbarpolu, as well as Senator Karnga Lawrence of Grand Bassa County noted: “We are of the conviction that we can achieve the desired objective of Article 77 without creating any form of social and political disintegration that could possibly lead us down the ugly road that we just treaded on. Multiparty democracy in the framework of two to three political parties is a healthy platform for our little population of over four million people.”
The Senators argued that the mushrooming of political parties clearly undermines the provision of the Constitution and has no generic economic political dividends. It rather provides “a scheme for political self-aggrandizement; a manipulation to achieve selfish political desires other than any nationalistic intent.”
They warned their colleagues not to allow the country to be “devoured by political vultures who only want recognition and absorption in an elected government rather than thinking about the general welfare of the electorate.”
How true this is! Many of the presidential candidates in the 2005 and 2011 presidential races, most of whom scored not more than 0.5% of the vote, entered the presidential race clearly because they wanted to show their faces and be placed in line for some plush government post. Otherwise, why did they enter the race, when most of them knew they had no real constituency?
The Constitution, however, sets the basis for multiple political parties. Article 77 (a) states: “Since the essence of democracy is free competition of ideas expressed by political parties and political groups as well as individuals, parties may freely be established to advocate the political opinions of the people.”
Reporter Carter, who closely followed the Senate debate, observed that the upper chamber was evenly divided on the issue. Those against reminded their colleagues that “lives were lost before the country could reach the present state of multiparty democracy. Nothing should be done,” they contended, “to remind people of those dreadful years of one-party rule.”
For his part, River Gee Senator Conmany B. Wesseh laid the blame of party proliferation squarely at the feet of the National Elections Commission which, according to him, “has not been enforcing the laws consistent with the Constitution.”
He cited the constitutional provision that requires a political party to have 500 registered voters in six of the 15 counties. A political party is also required to maintain a well-furnished office, Senator Wesseh noted.
The Daily Observer contacted NEC’s Acting Chairperson, Madam Sarah Findley Jegede Toe, who said the Commission, too, was also seriously concerned about the proliferation of political parties in Liberia.
NEC, she indicated, was doing all it could within the constraints of the law to discourage too many political parties; but the blame was more with the Legislature than anyone else.
Right now there are 22 registered parties, she said, and there are at least 10 more seeking registration. “We are worried that the more the parties, the larger the voting papers will be to accommodate the names and photos of all candidates. The photos would have to be reduced and voters may have difficulty recognizing the candidates, and this could lead to confusion,” Commissioner Toe added.
That was one of the reasons NEC had drafted a bill making registration more stringent, she explained. For example, NEC suggested an increase in the amount of money each party should pay to qualify for registration, but this was rejected by the Legislature. “The bill we drafted and forwarded was watered down and the Legislature returned it for the President’s signature in 2014,” Commissioner Toe stated.
Clearly, there needs to be an urgent and serious meeting between the Executive and Legislative branches to resolve the issue of proliferation of political parties. If this is not done, we could be headed for confusion in the 2017 elections.
Also, it may well be necessary, even urgent, for the media and civil society to launch a campaign to persuade the Liberian people to resolve their political differences, toward a merging of parties. This will simplify the electoral process and make it far more governable.