Shunned by Executive, Traditional Council and Supreme Court, Embattled Speaker Tyler Looks to Senate for Legitimacy
Monrovia – It has been a long fight for leadership at the House of Representatives with Speaker Alex Tyler standing his ground that attempts to have him recuse himself is illegal and as such cannot hold while the opposing lawmakers are also resolved to have their leader for over ten years replaced.
The long running leadership crisis at the House of Representatives appears messy for embattled House of Representatives Speaker Alex Tyler who seems to be looking to just one more source for legitimacy-the Liberian Senate after President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf recognized Deputy Speaker Hans Barchue through a communication followed by Supreme Court Justice-In-Chambers, Jamesetta Wolokollie declining to issue a Writ of Prohibition against the ‘majority bloc’ and a call by the head of the Traditional Council of Liberia, Chief Zanzan Kawor for the speaker to step aside.
Over the past several weeks the House of Representatives has been divided with the lawmakers holding two separate sessions-Speaker Tyler presiding in the regular chambers of the House of Representatives while Deputy Speaker Hans Barchue in the group of lawmakers known as ‘majority’ bloc have been holding session in the joint chambers of the National Legislature.
It has been an equal battle with both sides claiming legitimacy but the pro-Speaker Tyler bloc looks to be getting the knock in the fight following three major decisions against the bloc.
Executive breaks silence
The Executive branch of government has been playing a quiet role even though Speaker Tyler from the onset of the impasse accused President Sirleaf of masterminding his removal but on August 19, President Sirleaf wrote Deputy Speaker Barchue, recognizing his leadership and pledging her support and that of the Executive Branch of government.
In the letter, the President stated “Dear Mr. Deputy Speaker
Please find enclosed resubmission of letter dated August 18, 2016 which was recalled for corrections. Let me reassure you of the fullest support of the Executive and my own commitment as you guide the work of the Honorable House of Representatives in meeting national objectives”.
President Sirleaf earlier wrote the Deputy Speaker on expressing the hope that she will work with a constitutionally recognized leadership to move the development agenda of the government forward.
“It is my sincere hope that a constitutionally organized majority will properly and swiftly attend to these matters. The executive stands to cooperate”, stated the letter.
But within hour after the letter surfaced at the Legislature, the Executive Mansion recalled the letter citing clerical error.
“The Executive Mansion has responded to a communication dated August 11, 2016 from Dep. Speaker Hans Barchue with an attached Resolution taken by Majority of the House of Representatives”.
Added the Executive Mansion “Notwithstanding, due to clerical error involving the addressee, Reference No., and one typo – the communication was recalled”.
The resubmission of President Sirleaf’s letter to Deputy Speaker Barchue coincided with a letter from the Supreme Court Justice-In- Chambers where the Justice expressed that the high court cannot act on a petition for writ of prohibition requested by Speaker Tyler through his lawyers.
Supreme Court Declines intervention
While the impasse was getting tense, Speaker Tyler quickly rushed to the Supreme Court, seeking the highest court intervention by filing a petition for a writ of prohibition to prevent the ‘majority bloc’ from holding separate session in the Joint Chambers of the National legislature.
Speaker Tyler prayed the court through the petition to bring the ‘majority bloc’ back under his gavel, where some pro Tyler lawmakers were already planning to institute disciplinary actions against their colleagues upon their return to the regular plenary room but the Associate Justice Wolokollie in a communication decline to act on the Speaker’s petition.
A letter from the office of the Clerk of the Supreme Court Martha Henries addressed to the parties stated “By directive of the her honor Jamesetta Howard Wolokollie Associate Justice _In-Chambers, you are hereby informed that her honor Justice Wolokollie has declined to issue the writ of prohibition”.
Before the communication from Associate Justice Wolokollie, the parties held a conference with the Justice-In-Chambers where both parties made a case but the court opted to stay out of the fray.
The Supreme Court has on many occasions issued writ stay orders some which were heavily criticized due to the level of tension the stay orders created but for the current case, the Justice-In-Chambers decided the other way.
While presiding as Justice-In-Chambers in November 2014, Associate Justice Phillip A.Z. Banks placed a stay order on campaigning for the 2014 special Senatorial election after a petition for a writ of prohibition was filed by some Liberians.
Associate Justice Banks order was widely criticized due to the tension the Stay Order created but Justice Banks remained firm until a review of the petition before the Stay order was lifted and the election end ahead.
The decision by Justice Wolokollie to decline in taking legal action into the leadership crisis by issuing a Wirt of Prohibition as prayed for Speaker Tyler which also coincided with the resubmission of a letter of support to Deputy Speaker Barchue by President Sirleaf has now left Speaker Tyler without support from the other two branches of government-judiciary and Executive.
The Speaker of the House of Representatives heads the Executive Branch of Government which is the first in ranking amongst the three separate but coordinate branches of the Government of Liberia and with the Executive expressing support for his opponent and the Judiciary declining to come to his aid, the embattled Speaker is now left with no option but to look for support from the Liberian Senate, sources at the Capitol have hinted.
The Liberian Senate is providing support to the embattled Speaker as on Tuesday, there communications were sent from the Senate to Speaker Tyler.
In the separate communications the Senate was seeking the decision of the House of Representatives through Speaker Tyler on an engrossed bill and other decisions by the Senate, requesting the House of Representatives concurrence.
Having lost the recognition of the executive and refused recognition by the Supreme Court sources close to the speaker battle said he was frantically lobbying the members of the Senate to maintain his legitimacy.
Observers at the funeral of the late minister of state said Mr. Tyler was initially seared on the third row with other law makers while deputy speaker Hans Barchue was seated in the speaker’s position alongside the chief justice and the President pro tem.
One legislative source hinted that late Tuesday evening the speaker was making frantic calls to the pro tem to adopt the budget and adjourn the legislature next week.
Other sources indicate that Speaker Tyler has failed to keep his bloc intact with five more lawmakers crossing, leaving the embattled speaker with actual numbers present at 18 (although they announced 33 with absent members).
Senators split over Tyler’s support
At the Liberian Senate, Senators are also said to be divided on support for Speaker Tyler with some Senator in favor and others against
Accordingly, the pro speaker forces in the legislature are led by Senators Varney Sherman (Grand Cape Mount, Unity Party) and Morris Saytumah (Bomi County, Unity Party) while the anti-Tyler are led by Senators Geraldine Sheriff (Montserrado County, Congress for Democratic Change) and Nyonblee Karnga Lawrence (Liberty Party, Grand Bassa County).
Senate sources have hinted that most Senators are against adjournment and that the Senate is unlikely to agree to an adjournment of session.
Traditional council demands resignation
The Traditional council of Liberia, an association of chiefs and elders from all the political subdivisions of the country through their head-Chief Zanzan Kawor have called for the Speaker to resign.
The chief have earlier commenced the process of negotiating an amicable resolution to the impasse where they invited lawmakers from both sides to a meeting.
At the first meeting which was attended by Speaker Tyler and Deputy Speaker Barchue, the chief requested the Speaker to withdraw his petition before the Supreme Court and look up to them for peaceful resolution but the Speaker did not adhere to the advice of the elders as both parties appeared before the Supreme Court on Monday for a conference.
Chief Kawor also said Speaker Tyler and his supporters refused to attend a second meeting requested by the chiefs.
The battle now looks to going all against Speaker Tyler as observers believe it is difficult to see how the Speaker will continue to hang on amid the pledge of support by the Executive to his opponent, the Supreme Court declining to make legal intervention and the head of traditional chiefs calling for his resignation.
Speaker Tyler has been serving the position for over ten years now after he was first elected in 2007 following the controversial ousting of Representative Edwin M. Snowe as Speaker.
He won re-election against Nimba County lawmaker Ricks Toweh after the 2011 election when he was elected as lawmaker.
Formerly a member of the ruling Unity Party, Speaker Tyler left the Unity party and established the Liberian People Democratic Party (LPDP).