MONROVIA: In a landmark verdict growing out of the objection case filed against former Minister of State for Presidential Affairs, Mr. Nathaniel Farlo McGill, by several individuals which sought to deny him contesting as a senatorial candidate in the ensuing October 10, 2023, the entire Board of Commissioners of the National Elections Commission (NEC) unanimously dismissed and denied the said objection, clearing the way for Mr. McGill to be officially notified and certified as a bona fide candidate to contest the Margibi County senate seat.
In the various complaints which the Hearing Officers of NEC consolidated into a case filed against McGill, the issue which arose from the case was the Board to make a determination on two things, namely, whether the 2023 general elections and nomination and registration procedures formulated by the electoral body pursuant to its authority is inconsistent with Chapter 5 of the Election Law; and the other, whether a group of consolidated complaints dealing with a single subject matter, challenging the domicile and residency of a candidate, as in the instant case, may be dismissed separately.
“Wherefore and in view of the foregoing, we hold that the Hearing Officers incorrectly ruled that the complainants (as voters) have legal standing to object to a candidate whose name appears on the provisional list of candidates. We therefore vacate that portion of the Hearing Officers’ August 3, 2023 ruling regarding the voters who are neither candidates nor political parties and therein enter the ruling of dismissal the Hearing Officers should have entered”, the unanimous verdict of the case which was agreed upon and signed by all the 7 members of the Board headed by Chairperson, Madam Davidetta Brown, said.
Other members of the Board who signed the verdict included Cllr. P. Teplah Reeves, Co-Chairperson, Boakai M. Dukuly, Commissioner, Cllr. Ernestine Morgan-Awar, Commissioner, Floyd Sayor, Commissioner, Barsee Leo Kpangba, Commissioner and Joseph Kou Gaye, Commissioner.
In making determination from the two issues raised in the case, the Board of Commissioners in addressing the first issue as to whether the 2023 General Elections Nomination and Registration Procedure formulated by NEC pursuant to its authority is inconsistent with Chapter 5 of the Election law, the Board answered in the negative.
“The Board says the formulation of the 2023 General Elections Nomination and Registration Procedure formulated by NEC are not inconsistent with Chapter 5 of the Election Law. Chapter 2, titled: “power and Duties”, subsection, 2.9(h) of the New Elections Law expressly state: that the NEC has authority to formulate and enforce guidelines controlling the conduct of all elections for elective public officers which guidelines shall not be inconsistent with the provisions of the constitution and the Election law”.
The Board contended that the Supreme Court of Liberia has already adjudicated on Chapter 5 of the Election Law, the basis that informed their decision reached as per the complaints against Mr. McGill.
“The above opinion of the Honorable Supreme Court makes it clear that Chapter 5 of the Election law does not apply to the candidate nomination exercise. The hearing officers therefore erred, as a matter of law, to have ruled that the legal capacity provision of chapter 5 applies to the on-going challenges growing out of the 2023 nomination exercise”.
In addressing the second issue as to whether a group of consolidated complaints dealing with a single subject matter, challenging the domicile and residency of a candidate, as in the instant case, may be dismissed separately, the Board answered in the negative.
“The Board says when the Hearing officer granted a submission for consolidation of the complaint, the entire complaints filed at diverse times were now a single complaint. Therefore, the dismissal of candidate Yarkpawolo’s complaint already consolidated with the rest of the complaints and affected the complaints as united. The Board is not persuaded by the argument of the complainant’s counsel that the dismissal of candidate Yarkpawolo’s complaint already consolidated left the other complaint still pending. Therefore, the Hearing Officer erred to have proceeded with hearing of a consolidated complaint which they had dismissed and denied”.
The electoral body, using its legal power, has formulated procedures and guidelines that a candidate participating political party, coalition or alliance, as per the 2023 Nomination and Registration procedures, could within two days of publication of the provisional list challenge, where applicable, the eligibility of another candidate on the list. A candidate’s domicile is one of the listed grounds for challenge.
According to the information contained in the verdict in the case, a copy of which is in possession of The Analyst, prior to the publication of the provisional list of candidates, the NEC received communication from several individuals including Alfred Sheah and Alex Roger, whose complaint was received on July 13, 2023.
In their letter, they averred that they are registered voters in Margibi and Mr. McGill is domiciled in Montserrado County and not Margibi County as he stated to NEC. Thereafter, NEC received a letter from several individuals in support of Mr. McGill’s domicile. In their notarized communication, they stated among others that they are residents of Adventist Community, Margibi County, that Mr. McGill owns properties in the Adventist Community, where he has been resident for the past year.
On July 21, 2023, another objection came from Mr. Joseph Y. Yarkpawolo, whose name appeared on the provisional list as a candidate for the senatorial seat of Margibi County, and filed an objection against Mr. McGill’s domicile. The complaints were forwarded to the Hearing section for investigation.
Not being satisfied with the attempt being made to thwart his senatorial ambition, Mr. McGill who has emerged as a front-runner in the race filed a pre-trial motion to dismiss the case which was before the Hearing Officers of NEC.
He contended that the letter of objection of Mr. Sheah, Mr. Roger et al, filed on July 13, 2023 was done prematurely, which was five days to the publication of the provisional list and that they, as voters, lack standing to file objection under the 2023 Nomination and Registration procedures.
As regards the case by Mr. Yarkpawolo, Mr. McGill argued it was filed late, which was beyond the two days’ period stipulated in the guidelines of the 2023 general election and the Hearing Officers granted the request of Mr. McGill by hearing and later dismissing the complaint because he filed late beyond the time limit.
Turning to the complaint by Sheah, Roger et al, the Hearing Officers held that although a voter does not have standing under the 2023 Nomination and Registration procedure, the “standing” provision of Chapter 5 of the Elections law grants standing. Both parties excepted. Subsequently, on August 4, 2023, McGill filed a “bill of exception”, with the caption, “appeal” and the same was approved by the hearing officers. After approving the bill of exception, the Hearing Officers proceeded with the case to commence.
In his submission, McGill contended that the Hearing Officers committed error when they proceeded to entertain complaints from co-correspondents Alfred Sheah and Alex Roger which the appellant claimed was prematurely filed on July 13, 2023 and that they are neither candidates nor representatives of political party or coalition or alliance as required by the 2023 nomination and registration procedure and that they lack standing to object to a candidate on the said provisional list.
With the case being dismissed and thrown out, Mr. McGill who has been in the commanding lead before the objection, is set to further consolidate on where he left the race to attend to the objections raised against him.