The signs are visible, especially to the keen-eyed: Given current developments the upcoming Referendum and Senatorial Representative by-elections have all been scheduled for December, December. Signs suggest that the elections will prove very controversial given the history of elections in Liberia since the introduction of multi-party elections in 1979. A soldier turned politician and head of state at the time sought to prolong his stay in office even if it meant rigging the elections results. And that is just what he sought to achieve.
Additionally, a referendum on a new Constitution had been planned to coincide with the elections. A draft constitution put together by eminent Liberians, had called for a reduction of the Presidential term of office to 4 years and a succeeding term of 4-years, thus restricting to eight-years the total Presidential term limits.
Doe was however determined to have it his way and he had a game plan. Rather than submitting the draft constitution to the public, he quickly named what he called a Constitutional Advisory Assembly, mostly comprised of members of his party, the National Democratic Party of Liberia, (NDPL) that made changes to the draft which he submitted to the Referendum.
A very contentious and controversial issue was that of dual citizenship. Although it was soundly defeated, other controversial issues and modifications made by the Advisory Assembly to the draft constitution were allowed to pass. They included the change in Presidential Term limits to two terms of 6-years each, totaling 12-years in all, contrary to the original draft which called for two successive presidential term limits of a total of 8-years. And the reason for this, judging from the public mood then, voting Doe out of office ranked top of other concerns.
Doe had by then banned the two mass-based political parties, the Baccus Mathews led Progressive People’s Party (PPP) and proscribed the registration of the Amos Sawyer-led Liberia Peoples Party (LPP). All hopes now rested on the Liberia Action Party (LAP) and its image of a rooster was the party symbol to vote for. And they did, judging from the popular vote count.
And once again, as he did by appointing a Constitutional Advisory Assembly, Doe appointed a special body to count the votes, which results were, ostensibly, a determined and calculated attempt to rig the elections results.
And he did, with Elections Commission Chairman Emmet Harmon, to declare in his own words, that the rigged elections results were on his own words, “ordained by God”. Less than a month later, he was faced with an armed invasion led by his former colleague and nemesis, and General Thomas Quiwonkpa. The invasion was brutally crushed. The echoes of the bloody spate of reprisals against Quiwonkpa’s kinsmen that followed and the tide of national ill-will that ensued were main triggers that led to the 14-year civil conflict.
The rest is history.
Suffice it to say, however, subsequent elections were similarly largely believed beclouded with public suspicion of fraud. They included the 1997 elections which saw the rise of Taylor to power, as well as the 2017 elections which were marred by accusations of fraud that led to contestations at the level of the Supreme Court.
But the Supreme Court overruled and declared the fraud was not significant enough to annul the elections results. But why the recount of history, if the public may ask. It is because it appears the CDC is leaving no stone unturned to ensure the supremacy of CDC at the December polls and the referendum, which coincides.
Finance Minister Samuel Tweah has been making the rounds in various communities dishing out thousands of dollars, USD included, to the public. And it appears rather surreal that officials of the CDC would be seen dishing out money to the public in an apparent attempt to woo voters to vote in its favor. For a party whose faithful would, in former times, buy and print their own T-shirts, it is instead now the other way around with the Party printing thousands of T-shirts to clad their supporters.
Clearly, these elections appear headed for trouble against accusations of unlawful action against potential opposition candidates. One who has publicly expressed such concern is Alaric Tokpa the Chairman of the National Democratic Coalition (NDC), who has accused the government of denying him his right to freedom of movement.
Another area of public unease and concern is the composition of the National Elections Commission, which counts within its ranks an individual who has public trust issues centered around the manipulation of the vote count in the 2017 representative and senatorial by-elections.
There will certainly be contestations to the elections results which will more likely than not
end at the level of the Supreme Court. And this is where the independence and integrity of the members of that body will be put to test. Its 2017 ruling declaring that the alleged fraud was not significant enough to annul the elections results did not go down well.
Further, claims by the opposition that the government has failed to address issues of corruption, unemployment, general disregard for the rule of law and needs of the Liberian people were reflected in the elections that saw the election of Darius Dillon, who soundly defeated his CDC rival.
But not to be ruled out are chances that the CDC could resort to the Supreme Court for interpretation of the Constitution, should President Weah’s proposals for Constitutional change be rejected at the referendum just as President Sirleaf did and succeeded with the Supreme Court, which overturned by judicial fiat the No Vote to her proposals.
Whether the current Supreme Court Bench will fall for the same ploy remains to be seen. Indeed trying and testing times lie ahead for both the NEC and the Supreme Court. They are cautioned, therefore, to be aware of the deep, unknown and unforeseen implications.
But as is commonly said, coming events cast their shadows. These shadows on the horizon do appear ominous.