Rev. Kortu Brown
As a nation in democratic transition, the major program I think in 2020 is the Mid-term election for 15 Senators whose tenures will expire at the end of this year. This, in addition to addressing the challenging performance of the national economy, has to be an ardent focus of the Weah-administration given our many previous failed attempts at avoiding a disruptive democratic process – especially since 1971.
Since last week, the CPP, the collaboration of the 4 main opposition political parties has tried to provide public assurances of their steady course. Well, TWT (TIME WILL TELL). For Government, after all the back and forth, MICAT unusually made a public apology for the [GOL’s] failure to have instituted an inquiry into the complaint from the late Journalist Zenu Miller who protested via social media of being manhandled by elements from the Executive Protective Service (EPS). This is an appearance of good governance and respect for the sanctity of human life which we all will account for, before God. No doubt, the Liberian people will still deserve to know what led to Zenu’s untimely death, even after he’s laid to rest by the family. The much-awaited gasoline shortage report is out, we are told, and the whole country is anxious to know the feedback from the Executive Mansion.
Concerning the mid-term election scheduled by law for October, 2020, there are three things I think that must be our Guiding principles as we ensure that we are on course to consolidating our democratic gains:
1. The Constitution: Articles 45 of the Liberian Constitution requires two Senators to be elected from each county for a 9-year term… to do the people’s business in the House of Senate of Liberia’s lawmaking assembly. I remembered that the Ebola outbreak year was also a mid-term election year, [October] 2014. Some argued that that mid-term election be postponed because of the public health/safety challenge presented by the outbreak and spread of the virus at the time. The Liberia Council of Churches (LCC) convened a meeting of political parties — which I chaired at the time as 1st Vice President — to solicit views on whether or not the election was possible. The parties were divided on the way forward. Some, led by the CDC and UP argued that elections were possible if the proper safeguards were applied while others, led by the NDC, argued otherwise given the health emergency on our hands.
One salient consideration was the constitutional reflection on the 15 senators whose tenures were expiring: Will they continue to serve as Senators with a constitutional mandate? If not, will the House of Senate have a simple majority quorum for the transaction of official business in accordance with Article 33 if the election were not held? Is the Legislature empowered by law to amend any portion of the Constitution without a Referendum by the people, especially to benefit members of that body? What will be the fate of the Government if the elections are not held? The mid-term election was therefore held and new senators elected. The country was spared the constitutional arguments and uncertainties.
2. Election is Time Bound: Election requires planning. Planning requires time. And TIME waits for no man, we say. There are many activities to consider when planning a national election especially the magnitude of the one before us which covers the 15 counties or sub-political divisions of the country. As a voter, I know that there has to be an approved plan including cost, preparatory workshops, deployment of field staff, voters’ registration or replacement of voters’ cards, civic/voters’ sensitization/awareness, deadlines for submission of names of candidates, debates, campaign and/or canvassing for votes, printing of ballots, recruitment and training of poll workers, deployment of ballots and poll workers, then the Vote itself.
All of this requires TIME and TIMELY ACTIONS!!! I know it may seem like we have a hung or lame-ducked National Elections Commission (NEC). The current Board of Commissioners tenure expires I think in March 2020. Between March and October 2020, we don’t seem to have much time. That’s why it is important that Government takes the appropriate, timely actions to ensure that there is no major DISRUPTION to our Constitutional administration as a consequence of our failure to hold these elections in the 15 counties in time. I don’t think there is a place for “ACTING Senator” under our laws.
3. Counting the Cost: Liberia is not always prepared to fund its own elections. After 173 years, we are still largely at the mercies of our development partners. However, if we must grow up, we must begin to take some of our own responsibilities. Kenya, I am told in 2019 funded their own Population and Housing Census. We shouldn’t continue to tell people how old we are when we are not able to ACT our age. This country, the way we select our leaders is through the ballot box. Any government outside the ballot box is undemocratic. We then must give priority to such democratic interventions. If we plan our annual national projections and do not include appropriations for the holding of Constitutionally-required elections then I think we are threading in a mistaken way. We should prioritize programs that affect and/or consolidate peace and stability, that could also promote national reconciliation. Whether or not we intend to retain the current board of commissioners of the NEC, that should not affect preparations for the Constitutional conduct of a Presidential or Legislative election. Secondly for an election to be considered free, fair and transparent, the handlers, preparations and/or vote count/results matter. Let us therefore finance preparations for our elections, timely and ensure that they are handled properly.
Do not forget, ARTICLE 29 of the Liberia Constitution says: “The legislative power of the Republic shall be vested in the Legislature of Liberia which shall consist of two separate houses: A Senate and a House of Representatives, both of which must pass on all legislation. The enacting style shall be: “It is enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the Republic of Liberia in Legislature assembled.”