Monrovia – When President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf delivered her last address to the United Nations General Assembly in September this year, she was applauded for boasting that she would be the first democratically elected President of Liberia to peacefully transfer power to another democratically elected government in 76 years, but that legacy is now at the brink of not being achieved.
The presidential election in Liberia is now in turmoil and as the Liberty Party seeks from the Supreme Court of Liberia a writ of prohibition on the runoff until the National Elections Commission (NEC) can investigate its compliant into alleged electoral fraud and irregularities.
The Temple of Justice – ground of the Supreme Court – was tension packed as many Liberians anticipated a supreme opinion on the matter; the full bench of the Supreme Court reserved their ruling till today, Monday, November 5, 2017.
President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s legacy of being the first Liberian President to peacefully transfer political power from one democratically elected government to another in 73 years now hinges on the decision the Supreme Court of Liberia will make on the runoff election today.
“Today, I address you for the last time as I bring to closure my two terms of elected office. Liberia is just 22 days away from historic legislative and presidential elections."
"It will mark the first time in 73 years that political power will be handed over peacefully, and democratically, from one elected leader to another."
"This paves the way for the next generation of Liberians to lead the country into the future.”
“The election will signal the irreversible course that Liberia has embarked upon to consolidate its young, post-conflict democracy."
"Indeed, democracy is on the march in Liberia and, I believe, on an irreversible path forward on the African continent,” President Sirleaf assured the UN General assembly on September 19, 2017.
However, with a temporary stay order from the Supreme Court, the National Elections Commission has announced that the runoff election originally scheduled for November 7 is no longer possible, even if the Supreme Court lifts the temporary stay order and denies the writ of prohibition sought by the Liberty Party.
Smooth Transition at Stake
President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has expressed concerns that the political wrangling might likely affect her smooth pass over of power. During mediation with head of the various political parties last Wednesday by the Presidents of Togo and Guinea, President Sirleaf implored her counterparts to resolve the electoral impasse with urgency.
“We will like to say to you Mr. President that we believe ECOWAS stands by the position that this democratic process must be concluded within the time frame of the Constitution so that I may be able to retire and end this transition successfully.”
The Supreme Court’s Concern
At Friday’s hearing, Chief Justice Francis S. Korkpor announced that the bench wasn’t looking into the merit and demerit of the complaint filed before the NEC, rather, theirs was to determine whether or not Liberty Party’s complaint warrants prohibition on the runoff.
The Chief Justice said the case of electoral fraud and irregularities is still before the NEC and the Supreme Court would only get involved if there is an appeal to the Court after an appeal to the NEC Board of Commissioners is denied.
This means, the Supreme Court could either lift the temporary stay order which would automatically allow the NEC to go ahead with the runoff election by rescheduling the date for the election or grant the prohibition on the entire process and instruct the NEC to investigate Cllr. Charles Walker Brumskine’s complaint before proceeding with the runoff.
Brumskine, a seasoned lawyer, presenting his party before the Bench said his quest isn’t about winning or losing the election, instead, he wants to change and protect the dignity of the country as he maintains that the October 10 elections were marred with massive fraud.
“The action taken by NEC not to investigate our complaint and to call for runoff election deprived us due process of law. If the runoff election can only be held if only there was no complaint filed against the election result,” Cllr. Brumskine said.
He argued the legal provisions that allow NEC to declare runoff election within two weeks after the announcement of the final results of the first round becomes inapplicable once there is a complaint filed.
Brumskine is heavily relying on Article 83c of the Constitution which states:
“Any party or candidate who complains about the manner in which the elections were conducted or who challenges the results thereof shall have the right to file a complaint with the Elections Commission. Such complaint must be filed not later than seven days after the announcement of the results of the elections.
“The Elections Commission shall, within 30 days of receipt of the complaint, conduct an impartial investigation and render a decision which 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 60 days of the decision of the Court 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.”
However, NEC insists that they were acting within the scope of the Constitution that allows them to schedule a runoff election 15 days after the pronouncement of the results wherein none of the candidate attained 50 percent plus one vote.
Arguing on behalf of the NEC, Cllr. Musa Dean said the Liberty Party’s complaint remains an allegation and that the NEC was acting within the scope of the Constitution.
“Your Honor, this complaint is still at the level of allegation, it has not been proven."
"The Constitution requires that when a complaint it should be disposed of before coming to the attention of Supreme Court, but this was not done in this case and that every complaint must be absorbed at the level of the National Elections Commission,” Cllr. Dean averred.
He prayed the court for denial of the Writ of Prohibition.
The public is divided on whether or not the legal action taken by the Liberty Party and its standard bearer was necessary. While some argue that Cllr. Brumskine was acting in his own selfish interest, others say Liberia’s democracy and the rule of law must be tested.
Speaking to FrontPageAfrica on Friday at the Temple of Justice, Matthew Williams, a student of the University of Liberia said, “Cllr. Brumskine has no basis for coming to court. He came third; he has always come third, so why is he saying he was cheated. I hope the Supreme Court will deny his case. For me, this is no case, but a waste of the Liberian people’s time.”
Civil servant Jebbeh Kromah told this paper: “Rerunning the election is going to cost us a lot. Already, we are always complaining that we don’t have money as a country to do this and that, then where is the government going to take another money from for a new election.
For Emmanuel Togba, it is quite important that Brumskine test the legal system in addressing his doubts over the election results.
“Not because he came third in the previous elections so it means he would always come third. The man has doubt he must test the system."
"If we allow things to just go like that we will not develop as a country. People must be grateful that Brumskine is following the rule of law, he’s not inciting people to get on the streets – that is what peace loving people do,” he said.
Lewis Nyumah told this paper that Cllr. Brumskine should be commended for taking the steps he has taken.
He says: “We all saw the irregularities, we shouldn’t pretend as if we didn’t see it."
"This is not the kind of Liberia we want where people do negative things and walk with impunity. The wrongs must be corrected. Precedents must be set. I commend Cllr. Brumskine for his action.”