“We need one; but are we ready as a nation to have it in December?” this question constitutes a concern by one of the longest-serving active members of the Press Union of Liberia (PUL), BBC Focus on Africa Correspondent Jonathan Paye-Layleh who implores that Union to lead the media community take a definite position on whether or not Liberia is really ready for the pending referendum which is slated to be held alongside the December, 2020 midterm senatorial election.
In a letter, Paye-Layleh who has been a member of Press Union of Liberia since 1987 writes, “As one of the longest-serving active members of the Press Union of Liberia (PUL), I write to suggest that the PUL and the general media community take a definite position on whether or not Liberia is really ready to have a referendum in December.”
Obviously, he has no doubt that there will be some civic education to precede the holding of the senatorial elections and the referendum; he notwithstanding said experience has shown that these important exercises [leading to elections] are usually inadequate, incomprehensive and restricted to accessible places where groups of dancers would simply gather to sing and dance before crowds of curious people, to indicate what is supposed to be civic education.
The Liberian journalist said in less than four months left for the holding of the December 2020 referendum, his interactions with people in some rural counties and towns have established that people are not only unaware of the impending referendum, they do not know and understand the propositions on which Liberians are to vote “yes or no” should the referendum go ahead.
“Politicians who have started premature campaigns in the name of acquaintance and consultations with the electorates are only concerned about the senatorial polls; they are not explaining anything about the referendum to the locals,” said Journalist Paye-Layleh who also files stories for other international outlets.
He expressed fear as that if the media community sits supinely and do not act as the mirror and conscience of the society, every member of the enlightened class would be heavily blamed for possible blunders that may result from holding the “ill-timed” referendum.
Saying “We have to speak out,” Journalist Paye-Layleh thinks the PUL should call a meeting of media people and/or leaders to derive a decision and subsequently proffer a suggestion to the National Elections Commission.
“If our stance on this cardinal national issue is ignored, at least we would have made our position clear,” Mr. Paye-Layleh indicated, saying further, “… We have a situation where even the educated class are still confused and debating what the reduction of the presidential tenure … of the propositions would mean.”
He noted that it remains unclear whether or not the term after the 2023 presidential election would be the second term of the incumbent presidency if the proposition reducing the presidential term is confirmed and affirmed at the polls during the referendum, and said “… These things need to be made clear.”
“There is a debate whether if this proposition passes, and the incumbent happens to win in 2023, that would be considered his first term under the new amendment or whether this would be the start of his second and final term, Journalist Paye-Layleh said.
Even on the dual citizenship debate, he continued, many people still do not understand whether this means one can, for example, be a Liberian and a Guinean, whereas as a country we don’t have the sophistication to know who true Liberians are. “Anyone can come from across the border and take on a Liberian citizenship relying on cultural and name commonalities,” he deduced.
Journalist Paye-Layleh wonders, “Mr. President and officials, many people in rural towns wanted to know from me if the dual citizenship proposition is voted “yes”, and one becomes, for example, a Liberian and an American citizen, whether America will recognize that person’s Liberian citizenship. In other words, if the person who is both an American and a Liberian commits a crime in Liberia and flees to the United States, will the authorities of the United States be obligated by law to return the person to face justice in Liberia? Do we have that extradition treaty with the US or next door Sierra Leone or Ivory Coast?”
Although he professes no opposition to the dual citizenship drive; he is instead concerned that Liberians could find themselves in some tight and ugly situations if they rush and don’t proceed the right way.
“President Coffey, I believe we should be heard and heard now; we need to have a position — stating whether or not we feel Liberia is really ready for the referendum,” the BBC correspondent asserted, saying that it is only institutions and organizations such as ours that should take the lead in debates like this.