Liberia: Senator Sherman Wants Restriction Eligibility of Sitting Lawmakers Contesting By-Elections
Monrovia – Senator Varney Sherman (UP-Grand Cape Mount County) has, through a proffered bill, sought the indulgence of his colleagues to place a restriction on sitting members of the Legislature wanting to contest pending by-elections.
The restriction would minimize the frequency of by-elections and relieve the government from the generous tasks of finding money to fund by-elections.
Senator Sherman’s bill comes at a time when the National Elections Commission had postponed the conduct of senatorial by-elections for Montserrado and Bong Counties which were originally slated for March 9, 2018.
The seats were made vacant due to the election of President George Weah and Vice President Jewel Howard-Taylor who represented the two counties at the Senate.
Already two sitting members of the House of Representatives, Reps. Saah Joseph and Marvin Cole, have expressed interest to contest the vacant seats at the Senate.
Rep. Joseph is revered for his humanitarian gestures and was re-elected in the 2017 elections and with few months into his second term, he has opted to enter the Senate.
Rep. Cole was elected to the House for the first time in the 2017 elections, but the legislative newcomer is being favored by Vice President Taylor to fill the vacancy she created at the Senate.
The by-election which should have been held on March 9, 2018, could not be held in obedience to the Constitution due to inadequate funding from the government.
The National Elections Commission (NEC) had requested US$3.9 million for the conduct of the by-elections in both counties. It has been rescheduled for July 31, 2018, pending legislative approval.
Cllr. Sherman’s bill dubbed “Proposed Act to Regulate Eligibility of Sitting Senators and Sitting Representatives for Ensuing Elections During Their Terms” seeks to curb such incidences in the Legislature that would lead to creating more vacancies in both Houses and alleviate the financial burden on the government.
“As the Legislature debates the issue of setting a new date for these by-elections, it is concerning to note that some of those who have either applied to the National Elections Commission or merely announced their intention to be candidates of the of these by-elections are sitting members of the Legislature (particularly the House of the Representatives). It is obvious that if any of these sitting members of the House of Representatives is elected Senator, a vacancy would occur in the House of Representatives, and a new by-election would be necessary and imminent to fill that vacancy.”
Senator Sherman questioned the government’s ability to fund the recurrence by-elections due to the unrestricted participation of sitting lawmakers in by-elections.
“Where will the money come from when this government could not find money for the by-election for the two vacated seats in the Senate; which caused a violation of the mandate of the Constitution that those by-elections should be been held within 90 days after notice from the President Pro Tempore to the National Elections Commission?”
Senator Sherman pointed that the three years from now when members of the House would be halfway in their tenure, the Senate would be going for mid-term elections and room would be created for sitting members of the House to contest senatorial seats and create vacancies at the House, again.
“If any of these sitting members of the House of Representatives were to succeed in the mid-term elections, a vacancy would obviously occur in the House of Representatives, for which another by-election must be held in early 2021, barely three years into the 54th Term of the Legislature. Where would the money come from to fund these by-elections should any member of the House of Representatives wins any seat during the mid-term elections of 2020?”
The Grand Cape Mount County Senator said while Liberia seeks to strengthen her democracy and uphold the right of citizens to change their leaders, there’s the need recognize that democracy can be messy when the rights encompassed in a democracy is abused and misused.
“The exigencies of these circumstances, therefore, warrant a restriction on the right of a sitting member of the House of Representatives and sitting members of the Senate to canvass for and elected to either of these two Houses at any ensuing election. Liberia needs a law that ensures the right of a sitting legislator to canvass for a seat in the legislature be restricted; which restriction would minimize the frequency of by-elections and thereby relieve this ‘pro-poor’ government,” Senator Sherman noted in the bill.