Arguments and threats against Montserrado County District #6 Representative Edwin M. Snowe to contest in District #1 in Bomi County have been mounting for some time now. It can be recalled that about a year ago, Bomi County Senator Sando Johnson pledged to use every means to battle Snowe,declaring that “We will use sweat and blood to ensure that Edwin Snowe does not contest in District #1 in Bomi County.” Despite the threatening statements, Edwin Snowe, who has served for two terms in Montserrado District #6, has persistently insisted that he, as a Liberian, has the right to vote, as well as to contest public positions anywhere in Liberia if endorsed by the people and in acquiescence of the Liberian Constitution.
Amid the arguments and threats, the incumbent Representative of Bomi County District #1, Samuel Gayah Karmo, filed a complaint to the National Elections Commission (NEC) Magistrate in Bomi, arguing that Snowe registered in that district to vote and to contest for the Representative seat as a sitting Representative of Montserrado County. According to Karmo, Snowe serving as a Representative of District #6 in Montserrado and planning to vote and contest a position in another county makes him ineligible to contest in Bomi County.
The Bomi incumbent lawmaker is also arguing that the “Distribution Regulation” of NEC relative to the 73 Fixed Electoral Threshold prohibits and forbids cross county district registration. Moreover, Representative Karmo argues that Snowe’s establishment of a farm in Bomi is a non-political issue, as several Liberians including Cyril Allen and Gloria Musu Scott have properties in other parts of the country, but are not contesting in those counties. Furthermore, the Bomi County lawmaker said his political opponent, Edwin Snowe, has failed to establish legislative domicile in District #1in Bomi County.
Meanwhile, the Election Magistrate of Bomi County, Washington V. Farmah, has delivered a ruling in the case, declaring that Snowe is neither in violation of the Elections Law nor the Constitution of Liberia. With this ruling, the complainant, Karmo, has decided to take the matter to the Supreme Court for constitutional interpretation.
While we await Representative Karmo to proceed to the Supreme Court so that all Liberians can get the clear interpretations of the issues he raised, let us find out the rationale associated with the argument.
First, the issue of “cross county registration” is not adequately defined by the lawmaker in his argument. Does he mean that his political opponent is tied to a specific county which he cannot forgo to vote in another county?
The other argument is that Snowe has not established “Legislative domicile” in the district he wants to contest in. Domicile by definition is the residence where one has a permanent home or principal establishment and to where, whenever one is absent, one is expected to return. It is one’s official, physical address (not Post Office Box). Therefore, one person may be domiciled in more than one place at the same time.
Article 30 of the Liberian Constitution states: “Citizens of Liberia who meet the following qualifications are eligible to become members of the Legislature: (a) for the Senate, have attained the age of 30 years and of the House of Representatives the age of 25 years; (b) be domiciled in the country or constituency to be represented not less than one year prior to the time of the election and be a taxpayer.”
What Rep. Snowe is attempting has never happened before in Liberian elections. The decision that will emerge from Rep. Karmo’s complaint at the Supreme Court will set a lasting precedent. That being said, we must consider a few questions.
Article 30(b) calls for domicile at least one year prior to the time of election. Is there a legislative procedure that a sitting lawmaker desiring to transfer his or her domicile to a new constituency must follow? We understand there is, as confirmed by Karmo’s notion of “Legislative Domicile.” What is that procedure, and did Snowe follow it?
Let’s face it. When Snowe decided to officially be domiciled in Bomi County District #1, Montserrado County, District #6 effectively became a constituency without a qualified representative. This could have been grounds for a by-election. Though Snowe was still posing as the District #6 representative, constitutionally, it could be argued that he forfeited his “Legislative domicile” in Montserrado County and therefore his right to continue representing that constituency.
For the sake of public understanding, it is imperative that the domiciliary clause be clearly interpreted by the Supreme Court since this case in point will serve as a precedent.
As both lawmakers prepare their battle plan for Bomi County District #1, the debate over the definition of domicile has already set a precedent. It is such that, a time is coming – or has already come – when an aspirant’s popularity in a given constituency has nothing to do with whether or not he or she is domiciled there. What is relevant becomes a matter of simply what is offered versus what is accepted between aspirant and voter. Some call this the “social contract.”
Karmo tried to avoid this notion by arguing that certain politicians who have property in constituencies where they are not domiciled are not running for elective office in those constituencies. However, he did not say whether those politicians ever expressed interest in running, or actually attempted to run for political office in those constituencies.
As voters, we must beware that the democratic process is never that simple. The essence of a political aspirant being domiciled in a constituency is to demonstrate that he or she has a vested and tangible interest there that cannot be easily removed or discarded. But there are those among us who have the wherewithal (cash, resources) to develop or erect “tangible interests” in multiple constituencies, any or all of which could become politically expedient when the need arises. Some might laud it as a smart business investment or political foresight. But if Snowe is allowed this 2017 to run for representative in Bomi County District #1, Speaker Nuquay himself should not complain in the next six years if Snowe manages to build another mansion in the Speaker’s constituency and eventually declares domicile there, with the intent to unseat him.
However, since Representative Karmo is taking the matter to the Supreme Court, we hope he will clearly and effectively make his case, bearing in mind that much more is at stake than just his political survival. Anything short of this will have his contentions construed as motivated by fear of losing his legislative seat, when he could have saved the integrity of Liberia’s democracy.