Liberia Council of Churches Wants National Referendum Postponed to 2023, Says Significant Challenges Need to be Addressed First
MONROVIA – The Liberia Council of Churches (LCC), through its President, Bishop Kortu K. Brown, has called for the postponement of the controversial December 8, 2020 National Referendum.
Authorities of the National Elections Commission (NEC) have set aside December 8 for the conduct of the senatorial elections across Liberia, a national referendum, and two separate by-elections in Montserrado and Sinoe counties respectively.
The by-elections were triggered as a result of the deaths of Representatives Munah Pelhum-Youngblood and Jay Nagbe Sloh.
The four propositions of the pending National Referendum include: the reductions of the term of the President from six to five years; Senator from nine to seven years, Representative from six to five years, and dual citizenship.
These Propositions for amendment seek to affect Articles 45, 46, 47, 48 and 50 of the 1986 Constitution of Liberia.
But speaking to reporters at a news conference held in Brewerville, outside Monrovia on Tuesday, November 10, Bishop Brown disclosed that the LCC has realized that significant challenges need to be addressed to ensure the conduct of free, fair, and transparent elections as well as the national referendum expected to jointly take place as scheduled by NEC without hindrance.
He noted that the realization came as a result of numerous consultations held by the Council with major stakeholders including the Christian community, National Elections Commission, Political Parties, among others.
Bishop Brown noted that Liberia and its people are at a “critical juncture in the process in national development where the Government of Liberia, through the National Elections Commission, has jointly scheduled Senatorial Elections and a National Referendum”.
He stated that the National Referendum must be rescheduled for before or during the 2023 general and presidential elections to ensure adequate planning and preparations, and the inclusion of all citizens.
“As it therefore relates to the aforementioned, the Liberia Council of Churches working in ecumenical collaboration with other church and para-church organizations herewith proposes that the Senatorial Election take place as planned on December 8, 2020 with all the safeguards taken to ensure the exercise is free, fair and inclusive”.
“We further propose that the National Referendum be RESCHEDULED before or for the 2023 Presidential and Legislative elections allowing adequate preparations, sensitizing and educating the public by the NEC, the GOL, Civic society, and other national stakeholders including the religious community, on the Referendum”.
Limited Civic Voters’ Education
Bishop Brown pointed out that the LCC has realized, from engagements with its membership across the country, limited civic/voters’ education on the Referendum.
This, he added, remains a major reason for the scheduled National Referendum to be reversed.
“Secondly, the time to do the required civic/voters education across the 15 counties now, is short; therefore, the Referendum should be rescheduled to a later date to allow for proper planning, community awareness/sensitization and participation, amongst others.
The Liberian people must own this process through their fullest participation”.
He, however, expressed the hope that the Government of Liberia, the National Elections Commission and all citizens “will take our recommendation in good faith”.
He clarified that the Council’s proposal is in the interest of sustaining peace, security, the rule of law and strengthening participatory democracy and good governance in Liberia.
At the same time, Bishop Brown has commended the NEC, government, ECOWAS. the United Nations, the United States Government, European Union, African Union, amongst others, for steps being taken to clean up the Voters’ Registration Roll (VRR) and ensure that the December 8 Senatorial poll is free, fair and inclusive.
According to him, the move remains critical to sustaining a peaceful and stable society and uniting the country for its forward movement.
“We encourage all Political parties and actors to lend their fullest support to the process and look forward to the cleaning up exercise being brought to a logical and satisfactory conclusion soon”.
There have been mounting concerns over the holding of a National Referendum along with the senatorial elections and two separate by-elections in Liberia.
A billboard carrying the photograph of President George Manneh Weah asking citizens to vote “YES” to all propositions has been heavily criticized by human rights and constitutional lawyers in Liberia, including Counselor Pearl Brown-Bull.
They questioned the rationale behind the National Referendum with just three years into the administration of President Weah.
They want the process suspended due to the lack of adequate planning, poor voters/civic education, and the lack of proper and clear understanding of the propositions, mainly by the locals.
It remains unclear whether or not government is going to adhere to the proposal from the Liberia Council of Churches since in fact; elections materials have already begun arriving in the country for the conduct of the senatorial by-elections, National Referendum and the two by-elections in Montserrado and Sinoe Counties, respectively.