Liberia: Speculations Of A Weah Third Term Warrants Explanation Further Probing Ahead Of December 8 Ballot

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SENATOR PRINCE Y. JOHNSON(NUDP, Nimba County) made an interesting point during a Sunday service recently when he suggested to his congregation that President George Manneh Weah may rule Liberia for 18 years.

SAID THE SENATOR: “I tell you the truth, President Weah will be there twelve years – and when the referendum passes – the first six years would be zero years for us – that will make it two more terms, that’s a third term.”

AMONG THE ITEMS ON THE BALLOT of the December 8, Senatorial Midterm elections, is a question regarding a plan to reduce the length of presidential and legislative terms.

IN ESSENCE, the Referendum of 2020 is seeking to scale back the current six-year presidential tenure to five years, and limited to two terms in office, under the planned changes. The same will apply to the vice presidency.

UNDER THE CURRENT CONSTITUTION, Article 50 reads, “The Executive Power of the Republic shall be vested in the President who shall be Head of State, Head of Government and Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces of Liberia. The President shall be elected by universal adult suffrage of registered voters in the Republic and shall hold office for a term of six years commencing at noon on the third working Monday in January of the year immediately following the elections. No person shall serve as President for more than two terms.

IF AMENDED, the law will now read: “The Executive Power of the Republic shall be vested in the President who shall be Head of State, Head of Government and Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces of Liberia. The President shall be elected by universal adult suffrage of registered voters in the Republic and shall hold office for a term of five (5) years commencing at noon on the third working Monday in January of the year immediately following the elections. No person shall serve as President for more than two terms”.

A YES Vote on this Measure means: “You are in agreement of amending Articles 45, 47, 48, 49 and 50 of the Constitution to reduce the tenures of the Senators from nine (9) years to seven (7) years; the President Pro Tempore from six (6) years to five (5) years; Members of the House of Representatives from six (6) years to five (5) years; the Speaker, Deputy Speaker and other officers of the House of Representatives from six (6) years to five (5) years; and the President from six (6) years to five (5) years.”

A NO Vote on this Measure means: The Constitutional provision shall not change but remain in its current form.

THE LACK OF voter and civil education on the issues on the ballot is giving rise to a lot of confusion.

IN RECENT WEEKS, there have been mounting calls for the referendum to be postponed at least until massive public awareness around pertinent issues on the ballot are addressed.

RECENTLY, Representatives Rustonlyn Suacoco Dennis and Francis Saidy Dopoh, along with a consortium of women urged the House of Representatives intervene in halting the National Elections Commission (NEC) to postpone the referendum scheduled for December 8, 2020.

REPS. DENNIS (District #4, Montserrado County) and Dopoh (District #3, River Gee County), in their communication said the referendum, if held, will be a landmark event and must “therefore go along with voter and civic education, mass media coverage, facilitating dialogue, debate and discussion between masses and policymakers and elected officials.” 

ADDITIONALLY, the Press Union of Liberia (PUL) recently sent a communication to both Chambers of the Legislature seeking the suspension of the 2020 National Referendum to next year.

IN A STATEMENT, the umbrella organization of the Liberian media, declared that the public education on the referendum is grossly limited and far below constitutional requirement.

THEREFORE, the PUL is asking Lawmakers to amend by the Joint resolution of the Legislature to delay the referendum and do exactly what the constitution of Liberia requires.

ARTICLE 92 OF THE LIBERIAN CONSTITUTION requires sensitization on referendum within the period of one year, but awareness for the proposed amendment has just started in the last twenty-four hours — two months to the December Elections.

MR. DAVID BENITOE, the National Director of the National Christian Task Force of Liberia, a conglomeration of different churches aimed at supporting the wellbeing of Christians in the country, also added his voice, urging Liberians to reject the pending December referendum by voting no to all the propositions adding that it’s unconstitutional to conduct an election and a referendum on the same day.

LIBERIA IS AT A VERY CRITICAL juncture, emerging from a bloody civil war brought on by years of greed, corruption and nepotism, a period that saw scores of Liberians lose their lives or flee into exile.

NOW TAKING a turn for the better with successive democratic elections and transition, it is important that everyone work toward ensuring that the gains made over the past few years are protected.

THIS ENTAILS, AVOIDING the trappings and missteps that led us to war. This includes eradicating anything resembling an enabling environment for dictatorship and bad governance.

THIS IS WHY the Weah administration must come clean and invest heavily in sensitizing the public about this referendum and what it means.

IF THIS  REFERENDUM PASSES, would it mean, President Weah will be given a clean slate as Senator Johnson suggests with a window toward a third term?

CLARITY IS KEY HERE as it is important for Liberians to understand exactly what it is they are signing on to.

MURMURS HAVE BEEN in the air for months about the motive of forcing a referendum this year. Now that Senator Johnson, an influential member of the Senate has uttered what many have been fearing, an explanation is needed to squash these speculations before Liberians cast their votes.

THE FACT OF THE MATTER is the government and the National Elections Commission have not done a lot of sensitization on the issue of the Referendum. Thus, it would be foolhardy to put such an important issue on the ballot that has the propensity to drive Liberia back to the dog days when the True Whig Party ruled Liberia for more than 100 years.

THE ISSUE OF TERM limits has been a thorny issue in Liberia for years. The term of office was set at four years until President William R. Tolbert had the 1847 Constitution amended to provide for one eight-year term. The 1986 Constitution provides for two six-year terms. While this amendment proposes to comply with the generally accepted term limit of five (5) years for a President for a maximum of two (2) terms, it is important for Liberians to know what this means in totality. If it means President Weah will get a green light to two additional terms, the public needs to know before they cast their ballot.

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