Liberia: Respectfully Disagreeing with Proposal to Forego Voter Registration for Senatorial Mid-Term Elections

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There should be admiration when astute legal minds become Members of the House of Wisdom. I think it becomes a matter of concern when a politician turned lawyer, or lawyer turned politician, or a legal-politician, or a representative of people is insinuating something that borders on constitutional reluctance.  Such action raises a concern, thru a question, the abrogation of specific constitutional provision.  
– Brownie Samukai

Monrovia – This article is simply a brief to respectfully disagree with reports of a proposal made in the form of a question, about the possibility “…that even though some people are eligible for voting, we should forego this (constitutional right under Article 77…) because of COVID-19 and for us to suspend voter registration (another statutory mandate under Liberia’s electoral laws) for the upcoming 2020 senatorial mid-term elections. 

Reasons provided for this proposal, as a question, shamefully argued that due to the presence of COVID-19 (which came in Liberia during the first quarter of 2020), and lack of funds (which were never anticipated and released to the NEC for the budget 2019-2020) the elections should be deferred to December 2020, and without the constitutionally mandated, voter-registration process. 

What is baffling being that this proposal, presented as a question, is suggested by one of Liberia’s finest and very competent lawyer, with an unmatched reputation for sticking to constitutional mandates.  He now happens to be a Senator (who nearly became President in 2005).  Is it reasonable to suggest that our learned lawyer, turned politician, is now consumed in the deliverance of ideas and actions that may likely blemish his legacy to appease shortsightedness on the part of our national leadership?  I hope not.

Let’s also consider for a bit, the argument in support of our young people who will be impacted by the proposal-question, not to have voter registration during elections 2020. The premise of our argument is based on the basic tenants of Malthusian population thesis regarding population dynamics (shifts, migration – 4 basic patterns, etc.), population density (age deposition), and rational decision to relocate.  This decision will likely disenfranchise a sizeable portion of our young population to exercise their constitutional rights.

There should be admiration when astute legal minds become Members of the House of Wisdom. I think it becomes a matter of concern when a politician turned lawyer, or lawyer turned politician, or a legal-politician, or a representative of people is insinuating something that borders on constitutional reluctance.  Such action raises a concern, thru a question, the abrogation of specific constitutional provision.  

An argument is being presented about no money syndrome, or “it is in the pipe line” or pre-financing arrangements.  Is it not crystal clear as day light and blue sky, that the preparation, passage, and implementation of our national budget is a legal mandate and political instrument that is the prerogative of the leadership of our country?  Our bicameral legal entity reportedly deliberated and passed the budget 2019/2020?  Should we conclude that the excuse being presented about lack of funds is a fundamental flaw of very cheap DOKAFLEH – NEW OPENING?  Very sad for anyone to put his/her reputation on the line for constitutional breach with such cheap excuse.  It is difficult not to be very disappointed.   

Let’s also consider for a bit, the argument in support of our young people who will be impacted by the proposal-question, not to have voter registration during elections 2020. The premise of our argument is based on the basic tenants of Malthusian population thesis regarding population dynamics (shifts, migration – 4 basic patterns, etc.), population density (age deposition), and rational decision to relocate.  This decision will likely disenfranchise a sizeable portion of our young population to exercise their constitutional rights.

First, the urge as a rational consumer is to seek better conditions under which to live and work for better life.  This action presumes that as population grows, there is a natural tendency to shift, or migrate.  This migration or movement may be induced among many factors, not limited to constraints in food production to feed themselves (and the population), search for better health, and/or activities to generate income, or employment opportunities among others.   This hypothesis underlines a correlation between shifts in population growth due to the above constraints, and rural to urban migration.  However, empirical evidence has shown that the shift in population dynamics is no longer limited to these constraints, but also based on conditions and expectations (poverty, quality of life, education, job, family, among others), security, environment, health pandemics, and other natural causes.  

Let’s consider population growth in Liberia during the last 24 years. Given the aggregate data between 1984 and 2008, there has been a 64% cumulative increase of the population during this period.  This cumulative increase represents about 53% of the voting population.  Population growth rate during this period has been about 2.1% per annum. In this same vain, lets consider the argument of ceteris paribus during this period (including pandemics).  

After 12 years since the last census in 2008, and using the 2008 Liberian census as our base line, it is rational to statistically assume that, with an average annual growth rate of about 2.1%, there is likely to have been an increase of about 7.5% to about 11% eligible voters in our population; from the age of 6 in 2008 to the voting age of 18 years in 2020.  Assuming that this percentage remains within range up to October or December 2020, it means that the constitutional right to vote for nearly a quarter of a million young Liberians (over 243,460 eligible voters, equivalent to those who may have died during the war years) would have been violated.  Is this what is being proposed as a question that we do as a nation?  Is that the kind of legacy they want to be remembered for, as those who proposed thru a question, an idea that could lead to gross violation of constitutional rights?

Secondly, and as postulated by examples of Malthusian thesis, there has been a rational movement of population during the last 12 years.  In fact, more recently during the last 24 months it is obvious similar movement or shift of the population may have occurred across the country.  We may also assume that there will be continuous shifting of our population up to elections, for variety of reasons including political reasons.  This being the case, any action to limit the decision of anyone to exercise their franchise to chose to life wherever they want to live, and vote wherever they are domicile or resident is a potential violation of constitutional rights (see Supreme Court Decision on this issue during its ruling of the March 2017 Term of Court), “…In the case Hon. Sando Johnson VS. Unity Party, NEC, et al.). 

Following this argument above, is this proposal as a question, suggesting that the rights to exercise such decision of residence or to be domicile, and the right to vote and the right to contest to vote will be denied and disenfranchised.  Will this action not be seen as disenfranchising eligible voters due to lack of an updated voter registration to capture your intention to vote wherever you decide, consistent with our constitution, our election laws, and the decision of the Liberian Supreme Court (mentioned above in said case)? 

It is therefore a foregone conclusion that at any time and during any period leading to elections, and within the framework provided by legal precedence, people may decide to register and vote wherever they choose.  Should such action be limited because of laziness on the part of our leaders to do their homework and think strategically?  

Can any provision of the Liberian Constitution as it relates to Elections, and or any provision of our Election Laws be changed by a mere resolution of the Liberian Legislature?  What is the law to support a change of our election laws or any provision of our constitution, or Supreme Court mandate to do so?  Will that not be a constitutional violation to change, adjust, alter, or tamper with our constitution by politicians?  Is that the kind of legacy we want as national leaders?

2020 was a year that was bound to come after the year 2019.  In fact, Mid-term Elections 2020 is a constitutional mandate (for the legal sitting of the Liberian Senate in 2021).  Therefore, immediately following the seating of the new government in 2018, the National Elections Commission reportedly began preparations for this mid-term elections 2020 by forwarding to our national leadership, briefs, reports, timelines, estimate of logistical requirements, with associated costs (consistent within PPCC guidelines, and supply chain delivery based on precedence).  Strategically, it was expected that critical thinking and strategic outlook would have driven the debate in preparing for budget 2019/2020, in support of the National Elections Commission constitutional and statutory mandates, to conduct mid-elections 2020.  Where was the House of Wisdom?  Where were the wise men and women?

COVID-19 is indeed a very terrible health epidemic that has affected and impacted all walks of life in our country and the world at large.  It is recognizable that some efforts have been made and instituted to mitigate the spread of this disease in Liberia.  These measures among others, were debated and mandated by law granted by the National Legislature under the present “State of Emergency”.  We have gone nearly 60 days with varying degrees of “Lock Down”, and today, the time line now is evenly divided between lockdown and no lockdown.  

The are irrefutable and visible empirical evidence to show that Liberians are carrying out their daily routines across the country, with adjustments wearing face masks, washing hands, debatable social distancing, and nothing seem abnormal to stand in line anywhere (to ride buses, take taxis, buy food and provisions in the general market), and nothing will stop them to stand in line to get a bag of rice if and when it is distributed.  

The argument that COVID-19  should be an excuse is unfounded and lacks any evidence or precedence.  Elections were held in Liberia during the calamity of Ebola in 2014, despite objections being raised at the time.  We are yet to see any evidence that pre-election activities, including voters’ registration, campaigning, and subsequent elections, will do any more harm under the present circumstances, as it is now, with NO LOCK DOWN FROM 6:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. In fact, this period of No Lock Down from 6a.m. to 6p.m. is the very time period during which nearly all pre-election activities are to be held (see NEC timelines and briefs on electoral preparations) There is ample evidence that elections have been held during a pandemic, not only in Liberia (2014), but also in other African countries (2020).  Therefore, to use COVID-19 as an excuse is without merit and lacks substance. 

As a nation, we need to muster the courage to think critically, think strategically, prioritize what makes the fabric of our democracy worth fighting and dying for, and make those hard choices in a selfless manner that will bring credibility to us.  

Elections 2020 should therefore proceed consistent with our constitution, and our electoral laws.  

We must cut the crap, and put our money where our mouth is.  If we can 5-G pass into law thirty cents as surcharge on petroleum to finance food for our stomach, we can do better in prioritizing what makes our democracy something to emulate.  It should not be for our stomach alone. 

Remember, within 90 days, Liberia would have consumed nearly USD40million dollars to eat rice on self-pay, after which we will have to pay back that loan over 25 years.  It should not always be about chopping. Our leaders should stop making Liberia the laughing stock in the region and the world.

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