Opposition Bloc Cries Foul -Demands Referendum Halted to Address Constitutional Provisions

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Citing Article 93 of the Liberian Constitution as their reliance to showcase how the Government of Liberia, through the National Elections Commission (NEC), is attempting to contravene the Constitution by going ahead with printing of ballots for the National Referendum slated for December 8, 2020 alongside the midterm senatorial elections, a conglomeration of opposition political parties has registered its disappointment, demanding that the referendum be halted until such time when all constitutional provisions are followed.

The conglomeration of opposition political parties, in a November 23, 2020 letter to NEC Chairman Davidetta Brown Lansanah, specifically noted that under Article 93 of the Liberian Constitution, the limitation of the Presidential term of office to two terms, each of six years duration, may be subject to amendment; provided that the amendment shall not become effective during the term of office of the incumbent President.

“We take note that both the Legislature’s Resolution and the subsequent Official Gazette are both silent on Article 93, which in our view should first be repealed before proceeding with amendment, which the flawed referendum attempts to address. With less than two weeks before Election Day, we are deeply troubled by the haste with which the NEC plans to proceed with the holding of the flawed referendum against the wishes of the Liberian people. The complications in this process far outweigh any benefits to our democracy,” the opposition bloc stated in their communication to Chairman Lansanah.Continuing, the group comprising the Rainbow Coalition, CPP, LINU, NCD, UPP, MOL, CLP and NLP, said the Liberian people are confused over the intents and purposes of the NEC to rush ahead with the referendum when the government of Liberia has widely advertised its intention to “Change the Constitution” in contravention of Article 76 of the said Liberian Constitution.

“It is disturbing to us that the NEC, which is established as an integrity institution, should be a party to an unconstitutional process thereby posing a danger to our growing democracy. We therefore urge the NEC to be circumspect about the negative effects of going against the wishes of the Liberian people and against the ruling of the Supreme Court to proceed with the referendum. We therefore demand that the referendum be halted until such time when all constitutional provisions are followed. It is important that the public is adequately informed, and has confidence that the NEC is free of any undue pressure, and capable of conducting free, fair and transparent elections,” the opposition bloc said.

The opposition political parties’ contention comes in the wake of a Supreme Court ruling prohibiting the NEC from printing ballots for the Referendum contrary to Joint Resolution LEG-002/2019 of the Legislature and Article 92 of the Constitution.

“Your intention was expressed in an interview which you hosted on Friday, November 20, 2020, and repeated at a hastily arranged emergency IPCC meeting on Saturday, November 21 at the NEC headquarters in Sinkor,” the opposition bloc said, noting that the said IPCC meeting was attended by only six political parties falling far short of the quorum as spelled out in the IPCC MOU; and therefore, any decisions taken at that meeting are non-binding.

“Our disappointment stems from your attempt to narrowly interpret the ruling of the Supreme Court in contravention of Article 65 of the constitution which states; “Judgments of the Supreme Court shall be final and binding and shall not be subject to appeal or review by any other branch of Government,” the opposition bloc averred.

The opposition further contended that the NEC’s statement of defiance of the Supreme Court’s ruling also raises disturbing credibility and integrity questions of its commitment to preside over free and fair elections, and to abide by future rulings of the Supreme Court in elections disputes.

A careful review of the Supreme Court’s opinion delivered by Mr. Justice Yussif D. Kaba correctly pointed out that the National Legislature’s “Resolution, which serves as the initiating instrument of the referendum, is correctly the foundational document that ought to guide and inform the process of holding the referendum, rather than the Official Gazette…”, thus, the court found that the Official Gazette is inconsistent with the dictates of the constitution, and that the NEC is prevented from printing ballots relying on the said Official Gazette.

“Since the NEC intends proceeding with the referendum by unilaterally expanding the THREE propositions as presented in the Official Gazette published in October 2019, to EIGHT as prescribed by the Constitution, we are concerned that such scenario creates more problems than it intends to solve. In the first instance, the NEC has unveiled THREE SYMBOLS as a guide to voters to coincide with the unconstitutional Gazette. How does NEC intend to reconcile the THREE SYMBOLS which it has unveiled with the FIVE additional propositions that will be added to the ballot for the consideration of voters? It presupposes that adequate time is required to unveil the additional FIVE SYMBOLS and conduct public awareness as required by Article 92 of the Constitution,” the opposition bloc lamented.

“In order for NEC to print ballots on the basis of the EIGHT proposed amendments, there must first be a new Official Gazette issued by the Liberian Government listing the EIGHT proposed amendments. NEC by itself cannot print ballots without the Official Gazette consistent with the Constitution. Before the ballots are printed, there must be close collaboration with the political parties, and major stakeholders to derive a consensus on the SYMBOLS which will form the basis for public education. NEC cannot, must not unilaterally decide on the type of SYMBOLS to be used,” the opposition said, noting that the NEC is merely an implementing agency. It is not an agency of original jurisdiction for triggering referendum processes; hence, the opposition urged that caution be applied in the premises. Most importantly, we refer to Article 93 of the constitution which says, “The limitation of the Presidential term of office to two terms, each of six years duration, may be subject to amendment; provided that the amendment shall not become effective during the term of office of the incumbent President”. We take note that both the Legislature’s Resolution and the subsequent Official Gazette are both silent on Article 93, which in our view should first be repealed before proceeding with amendment, which the flawed referendum attempts to address,” the opposition bloc stated categorically.

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