Liberia: House of Reps., Elections Commission Summoned by Supreme Court over Opposition’s Complaint of Constitutional Breaches
MONROVIA – The Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, Sie-A-Nyene Youh, has summoned the House of Representatives, along with the National Elections Commission (NEC) and the Ministry of Justice in the wake of a petition by the Collaborating Political Parties (CPP), calling for the by-elections of Sinoe and Montserrado Counties to be conducted separately from the December 8, 2020, special senatorial elections.
By Gerald C. Koinyeneh, [email protected]
In the writ of mandamus filed to Justice in Chambers Youh, the CPP through its Chairman, Alexander Cummings, said the NEC’s decision to hold the by-elections on the same date as the senatorial race following the House of Representatives’ delay in informing the NEC about the existing vacancies was in blatant violation of the Constitution.
As a result of the rate of mandamus, the NEC, serving as the first respondent and represented by its Chairperson, Davidetta Brown Lansanah, the House of Representatives, as the second respondent through Speaker Bhofal Chambers and the Executive Branch, as third respondent, represented by the Minister of Justice, Cllr. Frank Musah Dean, have been summoned to appear on October 15, 2020 before Justice Youh to show cause why the CPP’s request should not be granted.
The writ of summons was presented to the House by the Marshall of the Supreme Court upon the request of the court’s clerk, Attorney Sam Mamulu and read in open plenary on Friday.
Detailing the CPP’s Writ of Mandamus?
In the writ of Mandamus, the CPP accused the NEC of having a recent history of recklessly disregarding the Constitution by delaying by-elections, arguing that it was time for the Elections’ House to do the right thing.
Excerpt of the writ: “Given its immediate history of reckless disregard of constitutionally-mandated schedules and times for the conduct of by-elections, petitioner says that the National elections Commission must be ordered, instructed and mandated by this Honorable Supreme Court, to attend to fulfilling its duties stipulated under Chapter V, Article 37 of the Liberian Constitution without further delay by conducting the By-elections to fill existing vacancies in the House of Representatives on or before October 28, 2020 to fill the vacancy created by the death of Honorable J. Nagbe Sloh, and also conduct the by-election on or before November 5, 2020 to fill the vacancy created by the death of Honorable Munah Pelham-Youngblood.”
The by-elections for the two counties came as the result of the deaths of Representatives J. Nagbe Sloh (CDC, District #1, Sinoe County) on June 30, 2020 and Munah Pelham Youngblood (CDC, District #9, Montserrado County) a week later on July 8, 2020.
The Legislature, through House Speaker Bhofal Chambers informed NEC about the vacancies left in wake of the two lawmakers’ deaths on September 10, 2020, 72 days after Rep. Sloh’s death and 64 days following Rep. Youngblood’s demise.
Probably counting from the date it received the information, the NEC, with the approval of the Legislature decided to conduct the by-elections on the same date of the special senatorial elections- December 8, 2020.
However, the CPP, citing Chapter V, Article 37 of the Constitution of Liberia, said the Legislature and the National Elections Commission have the joint responsibility to conduct by-elections within a defined time frame, but no later than 120 days in the event a vacancy is created in the Legislature by death, resignation, expulsion.
“In the event of a vacancy in the Legislature caused by death, resignation and expulsion or otherwise, the presiding officer shall within 30 days notify the Elections Commission thereof. The Elections Commission shall not later than 90 days thereafter cause a by-election to be held; provided that where such vacancy occurs within 90 days prior to the holding of general elections, the filling of the vacancy shall await the holding of such general elections.”
Counting from the day after the deaths of the two lawmakers, the CPP said, the Speaker breached the 30-day period to inform the NEC about the deaths of his colleagues.
“The duty to notify NEC is mandatory and is not left at the discretion, whims and caprices of the duty bearer. The duty commences the next day immediately after the death, or resignation or expulsion,” the CPP argued.
“Given its immediate history of reckless disregard of constitutionally-mandated schedules and times for the conduct of by-elections, petitioner says that the National elections Commission must be ordered, instructed and mandated by this Honorable Supreme Court, to attend to fulfilling its duties stipulated under Chapter V, Article 37 of the Liberian Constitution without further delay by conducting the By-elections to fill existing vacancies in the House of Representatives on or before October 28, 2020 to fill the vacancy created by the death of Honorable J. Nagbe Sloh, and also conduct the by-election on or before November 5, 2020 to fill the vacancy created by the death of Honorable Munah Pelham- Youngblood.”– Collaborating Political Parties’ Writ of Mandamus
On the NEC, the CPP further contended that the constitutional mandate of the 90-day period commences immediately following the day after receipt of the vacancy notification. But building on the illegal and unconstitutional foundation laid by the Legislature in not notifying the NEC within 30 days of the vacancies created in the Legislature, the NEC, without the involvement of political parties, unilaterally announced it will conduct the by-elections on December 8, 2020.
“It shows how gravely unmindful the National elections Commission has become of its constitutional duty and the fundamental laws of this country. Petitioner pleads with this Honorable Court not to permit this transgression in furtherance of its duty to support, uphold, protect and defend the Constitution and laws of the Republic of Liberia.”
The move to overturn the NEC’s decision, the CPP pleads, would not only be in line with the Constitution but will right the wrongs that have been perpetrated by the NEC by holding unlawful by-elections over the years.
It recounted that the by-elections of July 31, 2018 as the result of the ascendancies of President Weah and VP Jewel Howard Taylor to the two top seats of the land on January 22, 2018 took place 190 days after the vacancy, while the polls conducted on July 29, 2019 to fill the void left by the death of Senator Geraldine Doe Sheriff of Montserrado County were 170 days later.
The by-election on July 29, 2019, in the wake of the death of Rep. Adolph Lawrence of Montserrado County District #15, the CPP noted, took place 126 days after the seat went vacant, while the election of October 25, 2019 that replaced the late Senator Edward Dagoseh happened 126 days following his demise.
For the Ministry of Justice, the CPP said it is the prosecuting arm of the Executive Branch which provides funding and resources to the NEC for the conduct of the elections.
The decisions of these institutions to delay the conduct of the by-elections, amounts not only to deliberate breach the law, but to also deny and exclude the citizens of the electoral districts their constitutional right to adequate representation and full participation in the Government, the CPP further stated.
Constitution versus Logic
The latest lawsuit against the House of Representatives, NEC and the Executive Branch has been viewed by some as the right step in correcting the wrongful acts that have persisted over the years. However, some said due to the financial burden associated with the holding of the by-elections separately, it was logical to combine the elections.
“We listened to the Writ of Mandamus read in plenary today and I think the CPP make salient points in ensuring that we adhere to the law. But we all know what it entails to hold elections in this country. So combing them, to me is logical,” a lawmaker of the ruling CDC who opted for anonymity told FrontPage Africa at the end of Friday’s special session.
Meanwhile, the legal action by the CPP is the second within weeks against the NEC. It had earlier petitioned the Supreme Court to order NEC to clean the Voter Roll but Justice Youh, serving as Justice in chambers thrashed the petition.