Is Liberia headed down a sloppy path of a constitutional crisis, following the December 8, 2020 Election?
By Sando S. Wayne
When the National Election Commission begins the second-round hearing on Wednesday, May 5, 2021, into the appeal filed by Victor V. Watson, it would be nearly ninety-seven (97) days after the NEC first declared Simeon B. Taylor, winner of the December 8, 2020, Special Senatorial Midterm election for Grand Cape Mount County. Contrary to Article 45 of the Liberian Constitution, which calls for the election of two senators to represent a county in the senate, for nearly five months, Cape Mount County has been represented by one Senator in the Senate.
It is acknowledged that a complaint was filed by Victor B. Watson, coming second after the winner, Simeon B. Taylor. And the law requires the complaint to be investigated with allowance for an appeal to a higher body if the complainant deems it necessary.
What is the law?
Article 83 of the Constitution of Liberia provides the answer: “The Election Commission shall, within thirty days of receipt of the complaint, conduct an impartial investigation, and render a decision that may involve a dismissal of the complaint or a nullification of the election of a candidate. Any political party or independent candidate affected by such decision shall not later than seven days appeal against it to the Supreme Court.
The Elections Commission shall within seven days of receipt of the notice of appeal, forward all the records in the case to the Supreme Court, which not later than seven days thereafter, shall hear and make its determination. If the Supreme Court nullifies or sustains the nullification of the election of any candidate, for whatever reasons, the elections commission shall within sixty days of the decision of the Court to conduct new elections to fill the vacancy. If the court sustains the election of a candidate, the Elections Commission shall act to effectuate the mandate of the Court.”
Breakdown of duration of the investigations
- Ten (10) candidates contested in the December 8, 2020, Special Senatorial Election in Grand Cape Mount County. From the results of the tally, Simeon B. Taylor of the Collaborating Political Parties (CPP), came first and was declared the winner by the National Election Commission on December 13, 2020.
- But, Victor V. Watson, candidate for the Coalition of Democratic Change, (CDC) protested the results of the tally and filed an original complaint to the NEC Magistrate in Cape Mount on December 14, 2020, then withdrew the said complaint, amended it, and refiled the complaint on December 18, 2020. Watson’s complaints include allegations of election fraud and irregularities committed by the CPP candidate Simeon B. Taylor and the NEC.
- The NEC Hearing Office’s investigation into the complaint began on December 18, 2020, and ended on March11, 2021, with a final ruling of denial and dismissal of Watson’s Complaint. The Hearing lasted for a duration of 83 days, contrary to the period of 30 days allowed by Article 83, Constitution of Liberia.
- Not satisfied with the ruling of the NEC Hearing Office, on March 13, 2021, Watson filed an appeal to the NEC Board of Commission. The investigation into the appeal began on March 13, 2021and ended on March 25, 2021, with a ruling of denial and dismissal, and reaffirmation of Simeon B. Taylor as the winner of the December 8, 2020election. The investigation into the appeal lasted for twelve (12) days; when added to the duration of the initial investigation by the NEC Hearing Office, that is a combined period of ninety-five (95) days or sixty-five (65) days more than allowed under Article 83, Constitution of Liberia.
Article 83, Constitution of Liberia, requires the Election Commission to “within thirty (30) days of receipt of the complaint, conduct an impartial investigation and render a decision that may involve a dismissal of the complaint or a nullification of the election of a candidate.”
- Still not satisfied with the result of the NEC Board of Commission ruling, complainant Watson on March 30, 2021, filed another appeal to the Supreme Court.
- The Supreme Court’s review of the records in the case began on March 30, 2021, and ended on April 22, reversing the final ruling of the NEC Board and the case remanded to the NEC to conduct investigation into complainant’s allegations. The Supreme Court’s review of the process lasted for twenty-three (23) days, this is fourteen (14) days more than required under Article 83, Constitution of Liberia.
Contrary to the number of days allowed by law to dispose of complaints by an aggrieved candidate following the announcement of election results, Grand Cape Mount County has suffered under-representation in the Liberian Senate for ninety-five (95) days since the NEC announced Simeon B. Taylor as the winner of the December 8, 2020, senatorial election.
What might be the reasons for the NEC and the Supreme Court to both ignore the duration required by law to “conduct an impartial investigation and render a decision” in an election complaint? And why must Cape Mount County have to wait for nearly five months and potentially more, without full representation in the Legislature, in particular, the Senate and no one wants to be punished?
Emerging from a dark period of failed state status, just under two decades ago, there is reason to be concerned about risking a relapse of the country into negative tendencies, such as ignoring a law everyone is aware that can be construed as a blatant disguise for impunity and the lack of public accountability. The law is written and it clearly defines duration for investigating election complaints.
Liberians should be concerned about holding people to account, especially in instances where the law exists in the Constitution, the highest law of the land, above which there is none! This ought to make agencies of governance concerned too, about the public consequence of acts of omission and commission in public service.
Some of the reasons for the coming into effect of the 1986 constitution of Liberia and the abrogation of the 1847 Constitution was to create safeguards for the protection of individual civil liberties, to create an inclusive society, in which ‘due process’ remains the cornerstone of Liberia’s emerging democracy, with justice and equality for all before the law.
And there is no greater power than the constitution of any land, to guarantee all who seek justice from it would receive due process, Liberia is no exception. To further accentuate this point, Article 2, Constitution of Liberia, insists: “This Constitution is the supreme and fundamental law of Liberia and its provisions shall have binding force and effect on all authorities and persons throughout the Republic.
Any laws, treaties, statutes, decrees, customs, and regulations found to be inconsistent with it shall, to the extent of the inconsistency, be void and of no legal effect. The Supreme Court, pursuant to its power of judicial review, is empowered to declare any inconsistent laws unconstitutional.”
Additionally, Article 1, Constitution of Liberia says: “All power is inherent in the people. All free governments are instituted by their authority and for their benefit and they have the right to alter and reform the same when their safety and happiness so requires. In order to ensure a democratic government that responds to the wishes of the governed, the people shall have the right at such period, and in such manner, as provided for under this Constitution, to cause their public servants to leave office and to fill vacancies by regular elections and appointments.”
The people of Cape Mount have chosen their leader in a process determined free and fair by the NEC, but they have been unduly delayed to see their Senator-elect Simeon B. Taylor, certificated and seated in the Liberian Senate to begin representing them through policymaking, oversight, and lawmaking for the advancement of the county and country’s development goals.
Cape Mount will not pass on this delay and make it a precedent in our body politics; relaxing Constitutional requirements is tantamount to breaking the law and a recipe for rolling back the progress we achieved with the support of international partners in the comity of nations. A relax of the law will erode the legal foundation of the state. The Liberian voters in Cape Mount have lived up to the spirit of the law. Based on Article 45 of the Liberian Constitution, the majority of the voters elected their senator of choice to represent the county in the senate, but undue delays by the system have provoked a constitutional question.
Should the Legislature continue to function incomplete? Or, is it not time the Liberian Senate invokes Article 84, Constitution of Liberia, which states: “The Legislature shall by law provide penalties for any violations of the relevant provisions of this Chapter, and shall enact laws and regulations in furtherance thereof not later than 1986; provided that such penalties, laws, or regulations shall not be inconsistent with any provisions of this Constitution.”
Good citizenship means that all citizens should question violations when they see them happening and while the governors of the state make them appear as the new normal. So, there must be a penalty for acts of commission and omission by the public officials and agencies found responsible for dereliction of duty or contributory negligence for the delays in the adjudication of the election complaint for the Cape Mount senate seat. Exceeding the constitutional duration for adjudicating election complaints is increasing the stress level of citizens of the county to endure this much longer. And the emotional pain this has caused the county, especially in this month of Ramadan, require that the guilty must be booked, punished and recurrence of this act discouraged. Therefore, the Senate must invoke Article 84 and Chapter 13, Section 2 of the 1986 Constitution which provides thus: “all office public officials and employees, whether elected or appointed, holding office of public trust, shall subscribe to a solemn oath or affirmation as follows: I, do solemnly swear (affirm) that I will support, uphold, protect and defend the Constitution and laws of the Republic of Liberia, bear true faith and allegiance to the Republic, and will faithfully, conscientiously and impartially discharge the duties and functions of the office… to the best of my ability. SO HELP ME GOD.”
Similarly, the Senate should consider a law that will prevent an incomplete Senate or House of Representatives from transacting the business of the Liberian State if the reasons for an incomplete chamber was a result of an unresolved complaint delaying the winner from certification and taking his/her seat. In other words, a legal date should be established for the resumption or beginning of legislative transaction of the businesses of the State, following the end of an election. This should not include a bi-election seeking to fill a vacancy caused by death, incapacity, or otherwise of a legislator.