By Matthew Turry
With less than six days for Liberians to vote for their next round of senators and make their choice on the eight-count referendum, the opposition bloc and key stakeholders are calling for the resignation of the current Board of Commissioners of the National Elections Commission (NEC), “given their partisan nature, inexperience and ineptitude”. The opposition bloc and stakeholders, comprising the Collaborating Political Parties (CPP), Rainbow Coalition and Opposition Political Parties, Concerned Civil Society Organizations, Student Unification Party (SUP) and other stakeholders, have also called on the electorate to boycott voting for any item on the referendum, but they should rather vote for those that they wish to represent them in the Liberian senate.
Citing a litany of reasons why they are demanding the resignation of the NEC Commissioner, and why voters should boycott voting on the referendum, the opposition bloc and stakeholders at a well-attended Joint Press Conference held Wednesday, December 2, 2020 at the headquarters of the CPP, said they are appalled by the fact that the December 8, 2020 elections have not been handled in a fair and transparent manner, but rather manipulated by the National Elections Commission (NEC) and the ruling CDC to produce a rigged process.
“First, the National Election Commission (NEC), in May 2020, requested the Government of Liberia, led by the CDC, to postpone the Special Senatorial Election outside the constitution timeframe of October 13, 2020, without any input whatsoever from, nor reference to other political parties who are key stakeholders/players in the process, except the ruling CDC. This unilateral act of collusion between the NEC and the CDC-led Administration was followed by a Joint Resolution of the National Legislature to postpone the elections to December 8, 2020,” the concerned citizens said.
The concerned Liberians also said that the National Elections Commission unilaterally, “again in collusion with the CDC-led Administration, launched the Voters Roll Update exercise and decided that the VRU would be carried out through a previously-failed mobile process, instead of the time-tested standard stationary process, without any reference to the other parties who are equal competitors in our democratic process. As feared, the mobile VRU became a massive scheme of fraud ranging from voters’ trucking, to multiple registration, to creation of ghost voters and registration of foreign nationals. The mobile process, which in 2014 during the dried season, failed to register a targeted 120,000 voters for five weeks, have now, we are made to understand, magically registered almost 300,000 voters in two weeks during the rainy season, with bad road conditions”.
“Third, the NEC, despite calls and pressure from opposition political parties, refused, neglected and failed to clean-up the 2017 voters roll, in violation of the November 2017 Supreme Court Ruling, and the June 5, 2020 Joint Resolution of the National Legislature mandating that “a clean-up process of the 2017 FRR be conducted by the NEC with the involvement of political parties….”.
“The failure of the NEC to be fair and transparent led us to proceed to our country’s Supreme Court, hoping that justice would be served. But we hoped in vain and waited hopelessly. The Supreme Court would not even muster the courage to entertain our petition calling for voters’ roll clean up, much less the legal morality to hear our complaints.
“Fourth, despite a recent Supreme Court’s ruling that the official Gazette, with three condensed propositions, is inconsistent with the Constitution and cannot be used to print ballots and hold the Referendum, the NEC again and in collusion with the CDC Administration, is forcing and rushing the National Referendum. Sadly, the National Referendum is being rushed and forced without an official Gazette from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, listing all 8 propositions, being issued. Furthermore, ballots on the propositions are being printed without consultation and consensus with political parties on the symbols to represent each proposition on each ballot. In addition, the public has not been educated enough on each symbol and the amendments they represent, in order to be properly informed and exercise their right to vote. Interestingly, the NEC has decided to ascribe unto itself the power to correct and redo the gazette and proceed with the printing of referendum ballot papers in total violation of the laws. There is nowhere in our laws where the NEC can issue a gazette as it has clearly done by operations of its decision.
“More important is the realization that the Resolution from the National Legislature, hence the 8 propositions do not include amendment of Article 93 of the Constitution. Amending Article 50, without Amending Article 93 will render the constitution contradictory. Hence, a new resolution is required. We cannot and must not amend Article 50 of our Constitution, without a corresponding amendment in the language of Article 93 of the Constitution,” the opposition bloc and concerned stakeholders said.
Legal Loopholes for 3rd Term Manipulation
Citing reasons they believe the Weah administration could manipulate legal loopholes to have an unconstitutional third term, the opposition bloc and stakeholders cautioned how the pending referendum is seeking to change the language in Article 50 from “term of six years” to a “term of five years”, but the referendum makes no mention to change the language of Article 93 from “two terms, each of six years” to “two terms, each of five years” so as to correspond with the any potential change in the language of Article 50.
“We cannot and must not have a constitution that says one thing in Article 50 and says a completely different thing in Article 93. The logical thing to do therefore is to postpone the Referendum, go back to the legislature for a new Resolution and issue an official gazette thereto, and after one year, hold a national referendum. Lest, we are misunderstood; we are not against the amendment of the Liberian Constitution. For the records, we would even like to have the presidential tenure reduced to four years rather than five years as has been suggested by this regime. What we are against is the unconstitutional manner in which this regime is proceeding with the conduct of the proposed referendum. That the regime would insist on proceeding with the referendum against the Supreme Court’s decision and calls for postponement from the Liberian National Bar Association, Civil Society Organizations; Youth and Student groups, etcetera, is quite revealing of an underlying motive. We cannot rule out the plan to force an unconstitutional third-term for President Weah as was revealed by Senator Prince Johnson a couple of months ago and validated by Samuel Tweh’s ill-fated “Benevolent Dictator” rant,” the Position Statement said.
The CPP and other political parties and civil society organizations said, in the face of all these challenges, they have written several communications to the NEC expressing our disagreements over the conduct of the NEC in handling activities leading to the conduct of the Senatorial Elections, but that the NEC remained intransigent and continued to proceed against the advice of political parties, which prompted series of court action.
“Again, we seize this moment to re-emphasize our disappointment with the Supreme Court of Liberia, which refused to hear our concerns through a Petition for a Writ of Mandamus to clean the voters roll; and which issued a ruling on the national referendum that was so vague as to be lacking in enforcement. We reject and rebuke the Supreme Court abuse of discretionary power to hear our mandamus and its spineless and ambivalent ruling giving no direction to the political survival of this country,” the group said.
“Fellow Liberians, we would like to inform you that even at the point where ECOWAS stepped in to help us clean the Voter Roll, the National Elections Commission still did not find it prudent to involve political parties in the clean-up process or at least observe the exercise; in utter disrespect of our role as prime elections stakeholders and the fact that it is our complaint that gave rise to the ordering of the clean-up exercise by the court,” the group further opined.
The CPP and other political parties and civil society organizations said, beyond the marginalization of political parties in elections matters, the NEC has also in some instances proceeded in violation of the country’s election laws. “For instance, Chapter 3.6 of the elections law requires that the Final Voter Roll be made available to the public through election magistrates across the country. Unfortunately, all efforts by the technical team of the CPP and other political parties to have copies of the FRR have yielded no results. With just less than a week to elections, the NEC is yet to provide us copies of the FFR or post it on its website; leaving us with no time and opportunity to have our technical team do a scrutiny of the Voter Roll.”
“In view of all the illegality attendant to the upcoming referendum, the CPP, the Rainbow Coalition; SUP, other Opposition Political Parties and Civil Society Organizations present at this press conference hereby request a cancellation and postponement of the referendum and demand a resignation of the current Board of Commissioners of the NEC, given their partisan nature, inexperience and ineptitude. Should the government insist on proceeding with the referendum, we urge all of our supporters and well-meaning Liberians to boycott the referendum on December 8, 2020 and only go to the polls to vote Senatorial Candidates and Representative Candidates for the Bi-elections. We do not rule out possible legal actions if NEC insists on holding the planned illegal referendum. We cannot and will not participate in an unconstitutional process. We reserve the right to peacefully assemble and will be doing so over the coming days to call attention to our legitimate demands.
“We would also like to warn the CDC and the NEC that we are aware of plans to rig the Senatorial Elections. We have put in place all measures to protect our votes and would resist vehemently any attempts to thwart the will of the people,” the group warned.
Despite the tough statement from the opposition bloc and stakeholders on the pending midterm senatorial elections and referendum, pundits wonder what actually can the opposition bloc achieve if the electorate chose to vote in favor of all eight counts of the referendum, especially given the fact that the opposition has continued to accuse the final arbiter of justice, the Supreme Court of Liberia, of being compromised.