Senate-Supreme Court Controversy over the Code of Conduct Needs Prompt Intervention

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Liberians, especially supporters of political parties and their candidates, are daily preaching peace and proper conduct to avoid conflict and any act of violence in our electoral process.

In addition to Liberians themselves, the United Nations, African Union (AU), Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), European Union and the United States have all in recent times repeatedly urged Liberians to see reason to conduct a peaceful election void of conflict or violence or both. These efforts have the prospect of making a positive impact on the electoral process.

Nevertheless, there is something seething that has a tendency to undermine our peace, and that is the emerging conflict between the National Legislature and the Supreme Court over the Code of Conduct. This legal instrument, adopted by the Liberian Senate in 2014, compelled all appointed public officials in active service and desirous of contesting elective positions to resign two years ahead of election.

The Supreme Court, having ruled earlier in March that the Code of Conduct was constitutional, changed its position on the Code in July and ruled in favor of two vice standard bearers, Harrison Karnwea of the Liberty Party (LP) and Jeremiah Sulunteh of the Alternative National Congress (ANC), both of whom had not met the stipulated two-year resignation deadline.

Since the ruling clearing Karnwea and Sulunteh to run for their respective elective offices, the National Legislature, some lawyers and political party supporters have developed mistrust in the Supreme Court and criticized its decision clearing Karnwea and Sulunteh to run. We call the matter “constitutional” because it was the very Supreme Court which, to the surprise of many, ruled the Code of Conduct “constitutional,” contrary to the thinking of many, including former Chief Justice Frances Johnson Allison.

Just last week Maryland County Senator Dan Morias wrote the Senate calling for the total repeal of the entire Code of Conduct, claiming that “When the law that was in force since 2014 is now opinionated by the Supreme Court in the form of ruling in the case of Karnwea and the National Elections Commission, the Legislative response to this judicial review cannot be less than the entire repeal of the Code.”

Senator Morias further asked,  “Where is the justice and fairness in a level playing field to a free, credible, transparent and democratic election, when the violation of an eligibility criterion of an election is now a subject [to] anything than a disbarment or disqualification?”

Besides Senator Morias and a few others calling for the total repeal of the Act, some members of the House of Representatives are also contemplating passing a bill seeking the impeachment of three of the four Associate Justices of the Supreme Court.

Meanwhile, supporters of Assistant Post & Telecommunications Minister Abu Kamara have been holding daily demonstrations against the National Elections Commission (NEC) and the Supreme Court for denying him a chance to run. Kamara’s supporters are contending that he is being used as a sacrificial lamb to give victory to people who were also in violation of the Code of Conduct.

Right after the ruling clearing Karnwea and Sulunteh, some lawyers raised reservations. This immediately led Chief Justice Francis Korkpor to issue a strong warning against them not to incite the public against the Supreme Court, or otherwise face drastic action.

We see this as a potential  point for conflict in this critical electoral season. The Supreme Court, by virtue of its constitutional establishment, is the nation’s highest court, the final arbiter of justice and the only interpreter of the Constitution. We cannot recall in history when the Legislature and the Judiciary were ever in conflict, exposing the Court to public disrepute, as is now evident.

With such mistrust surrounding the Supreme Court, how would this Court, in the case of an electoral dispute, be expected to judge such a dispute, as it (the Supreme Court) alone has the constitutional authority to do?

Mistrust of the Court, in whichever ruling it may decide, may lead Senators and Representatives representing huge constituencies to  propagate negative messages to their people that could undermine the Supreme Court’s authority. That could lead to a constitutional crisis.

It is, therefore, our plea to international community,  including the United Nations, the African Union (AU), ECOWAS, and the European Union, all of which have spent so much money, time and human resources on Liberia’s peace and elections, to  intervene promptly to end this crisis. This will ensure a peaceful conduct of the October 10 election, leading to a successful presidential transfer of power in 2018.

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