Liberians will go to the polls on December 8, 2020 to select their representatives for 15 senate seats in the midterm senatorial elections. The voters are also expected to accept or thrash a constitutional amendment for dual citizenship, and a reduction in the tenure of elected officials – the president from 6 to 5 years; senator from 9 to 7 years, and representative from 6 to 5 years. But in the wake of mounting criticisms from the general public about the inadequacy of voters’ awareness and sensitization campaigns on the core issues of the referendum, Nimba County Senator Prince Y. Johnson disclosed over the weekend that the referendum is solely intended to allow President George M. Weah run for a third term.
“I am telling them the truth. President Weah will be there for 12 years. When the referendum passes, the first six years is zero years for us. We have two more terms. We are going for the third term,” the former rebel who controls a strategic seat in the Liberian legislature stated last Sunday when he mounted the pulpit as pastor of his Chapel of Faith Ministry church.
The revelation from Pastor/Senator Prince Y. Johnson comes when Liberia’s closest neighbors, Guinea and Ivory Coast, are embroiled in a crisis over constitutional amendment that allowed their respective incumbent leaders, Alpha Conde and Alhassan Ouattara, to seek third terms after the expiry of their two terms.
In Guinea, incumbent president Alpha Conde has clinched victory at the recently held polls after amending the constitution in a referendum that allowed him riding shotgun to a third term. Nine persons have reportedly been killed in anti-Conde riots.
The situation in Ivory Coast is similarly deteriorating as incumbent president Alhassan Ouattara is already gunning for a third term in the October 31, 2020 elections. A new constitution approved in 2016 limits presidents to two five-year terms. Ouattara earlier said he would step down at the end of his second term this year, but after his chosen successor died unexpectedly, he said he would run for a third term. He insists that his first two terms do not count toward term limits because the current constitution was not in force at that time. Ouattara has now banned his two main rivals, former President Laurent Gbagbo and former rebel leader Guilliaume Soro, from participating in the October 31, 2020 polls.
Reduced Political Terms
In Liberia, observers believe that the reduction in years of tenure of elected officials may be a silver lining between the aspirations of politicians and the public.
“During the CRC consultations, delegates proposed a four-year tenure for the president (down from six) and members of the House of Representatives (down from six), and a six-year tenure for members of the Senate (down from nine years). Rather than rejecting this proposal outright, the political leadership accepted a modest reduction in their years of tenure for the referendum: a five-year tenure for the president and members of the House of Representatives and a seven-year tenure for members of the Senate. Some observers were left nonplussed that the political leadership accepted to reduce their own tenure, but others suggest this may be a ruse by the 53-year old President George Weah to reset the clock on term limits for a potential third-term bid,” says Ibrahim Al-bakri Nyei, a Liberian researcher, activist and political analyst.
Mr. Nyei, like many other constitutional-minded Liberians conjecture, that despite recent developments in Liberia’s neighboring countries, where Presidents Alpha Conde (Guinea-Conakry) and Alhassan Ouattara (Côte D’Ivoire) are each vying for a third term after reforming their constitutions, the popular mantra among Weah’s supporters that they intend to rule for 24 years give credence to these suspicions.
“There is no constitutional guardrail against such a move in the event of a constitutional amendment, but the constitution is clear that an amendment of presidential term of office ‘shall not become effective during the term of office of the incumbent President’. Should Weah attempt to reset the clock on term limits, it would require judicial review to settle that question,” Mr. Nyei stated.
“It will be left to Weah to demonstrate his commitment or betrayal to Liberia’s constitutional principles of term limits for the office of president,” Mr. Nyei averred.