Liberia: Supreme Court Orders Elections Commission to Announce Gbarpolu County Senatorial Election Result

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Monrovia — The Supreme Court has finally ruled in the controversial December 8, 2020 special senatorial election held in Gbarpolu County.

In the ruling, the Court ordered the National Elections Commission (NEC) to announce the final result of the special senatorial election held in the county.

“The Ministry of Justice not having found and come up with a decision regarding the complaint alleged by the 1st appellee from December 8, 2020, up to the time of this Opinion, it is only proper that the NEC proceeds to announce the result of the election in Gbarpolu County so that the County can be represented in the Legislature as the law requires.”

The ruling adds: “Wherefore and in view of the foregoing, the ruling of the Board of  Commissioners of the NEC is reversed. The Board is ordered to proceed forthwith to announce the results of the Special Senatorial Election held in Gbarpolu County, in keeping with Section 2.9(G) of the Elections Law. The Clerk of this Court is ordered to send a mandate to the National Elections Commission to resume jurisdiction and give effect to this judgment.”

Reading the high court’s opinion, Associate Justice Jamesetta Howard-Wolokollie said the NEC would have acted without a legal backing, should it had conducted a re-run in the 13 voting  precinct in Gbarma District as been prayed for by the ruling Coalition for Democratic Change(CDC).

“The NEC would be acting out of any legal justification if it was to [have] carried out a re-run of the 13 voting precincts in the Gbarma District, Gbarpolu County. In concluding this opinion, this court must emphasize that it agrees with the Board of Commissioners of the NEC that elections violence including the alleged illegal seizure and destruction of election materials cannot be contuenced, and  further injects that such violence in electoral process is of serious and grave nature.”

The high court also ruled that elections violence does not only impede the NEC function but also leads to the erosion of the peaceful governance of the nation.

“The need to curb instances of electoral violence so as to ensure the sanctity and integrity of the electoral process led to the inclusion by the Legislature into the New Elections Law a number of sanctions against persons who engage in acts of electoral violence.”

Justice Howard-Wolokollie adds: “Those given the authority of investigating elections offenses must give such action their due attention and must prosecute election offenders accordingly, as failure to curb such excesses predicts a grim future for a democratic society where the people must choose their public leaders.”

The high court also cautioned government’s institutions entrusted with the authority to investigate elections violence should be decisive to avoid future elections disaster.

“Those entrusted with the authority to investigate election violence must take cue from the mandate of the Constitution which sets timelines for the execution of electoral activities. We fear that if election violence is not handled decisively now, future elections in our country will be disaster-prone.”

The high court’s ruling may have placed Madam Gbotoe Kanneh, one of the contestants in the election, at the advantage of becoming the next senator of Gbarpolu County.

Madam Kanneh, who had won the highest votes in the county election prior to the stay order, would have been the second female senator in the country.

It can be recalled, on December 14, 2020, the CDC wrote a communication to the election magistrate in Gbarpolu County alleging that Independent Candidate Madam Gboto Kanneh had violated chapter 10, section 10.6 of the elections laws and pray for the NEC to place sanctions on Madam Kanneh and order a re-run in the 13 precincts in Gbarma District.

According to the CDC, the actions of Madam Kanneh and her supporters impeded the election in Gbarma District, and therefore pray the NEC for a re-run in the district.

While the complaint was pending, the CDC again filed a communication to the Board of Commissioners of the NEC, complaining of the NEC magistrate’s inaction in assigning the complaint for hearing, and prayed for change of venue and stay order on the election re-run earlier slated for January 7, 2021 in Normon Town.

The NEC Board of Commissioners heard the case and ruled that the application for change of venue was not proper before the board as the board could only hear the matter after the trial or investigative tribunal had made a decision and the dissatisfied party proceed for a review to the board on appeal.

Also, in regards to the stay order on the re-run, the NEC board of commissioners also ruled that the CDC didn’t cite any law that requires that the election be stayed pending the outcome of its allegations of criminality against Madam Kanneh.

Based on the board’s ruling, the CDC filed a petition for a Writ of Prohibition before the Supreme Court Justice in Chambers, Associate Justice Sie-Nyene G. Yuoh, requesting the Justice to issue a stay order to restrain and prohibit the NEC from conducting the rescheduled election in Normon Town, contending that the NEC decision was ultra vires and illegal.

However, base on the petition on January 8, 2021, Justice Yuoh entertained a conference between the CDC and the NEC regarding the allegations levelled in the CDC’s petition.

Following the conference, a mandate was sent to the NEC, ordering the commission to stay all actions or pronouncement on the election of the affected area in the county until the hearing and decision of the complaint filed before the Elections Magistrate is heard and determined.

During the hearing of the complaint,  the counsels representing Madam Kanneh raised issues that the NEC does not have the  jurisdiction to hear and investigate the matter of electoral violence as alleged by the CDC.

They prayed the NEC Magistrate to dismiss the case base on subject matter jurisdiction.

After the legal arguments, the NEC Magistrate ruled that the NEC has a responsibility to investigate and make determination into the case.

However, in her ruling, Justice Howard-Wolokolie said the NEC lacks subject jurisdiction in the matter because it is a criminal matter.

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