Liberia: House of Reps’ Judiciary Committee Chairman Blasts Opposition CPP over Request to Extricate By-elections from Special Senatorial Elections
Monrovia – The top legal Consul of the House of Representatives, Cllr. J. Fonati Koffa (District #2, Grand Kru County) has termed the writ of Mandamus, calling for the separation of the by-elections from the special senatorial polls as a complete delay tactic and a contradiction to the opposition Collaborating Political Parties’ call to clean up the voter roll.
Addressing a press stakeout in Monrovia amidst the closure of the Legislature’s third session, Cllr. Koffa, the Chairman of the House’s Judiciary Committee warned that any delay to the elections would result to constitutional crisis.
“We need to swear in new Senators in January. There is a window. If we continue to have challenges, some frivolous and some legitimate, that will waste the time of the electorates, and then we may not be able to accomplish that. And we will get into some constitutional crisis,” he warned.
In the wake of the National Elections Commission’s decision to combine the by-elections of Sinoe County District #2 and Montserrado County District (#9 following the deaths of Reps. Nagbe Sloh and Munah Pelham Youngblood on June 30, 2020 and August 8, 2020, respectively) with the December 8, 2020 Special Senatorial Elections, the Collaborating Political Parties (CPP), terming the NEC’s decision as unconstitutional, filed a Writ of Mandamus before Justice in Chambers Sie-A-Nyene Youh to order NEC to separate the elections.
The CPP, in the writ stated that holding the by-elections on December 8, 2020 will be in blatant violation of Chapter V, Article 37 of the Constitution was states that elections to fill vacancies created at the Legislature should be held within a 120 day period.
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.”
As the result of the lawsuit, the NEC, along with the House of Representatives and Executive Branch through the Ministry of Justice has been summoned by Justice Youh to state why the CPP’s request should not be granted.
Ahead of the appearance, Cllr. Koffa said, although he does not want to render a preemptory judgment ahead of the hearing, the writ of mandamus was not only an action by the CPP to delay the democratic process, but was in stark contradiction to the opposition coalition’s call for a voter roll clean-up, a request that had early been thrashed by Justice Youh.
Said Rep. Koffa: “The Writ of Mandamus must fall flat on its face. I am not going to pre-judge what the Justice -in-Chambers is going to say but let’s go back… Look at the contradiction. You are complaining about the voter role clean. And then you say bring elections forward. It doesn’t make sense. It appears to be dilatory tactics because while you are complaining about the clean-up of the voter role, you cannot also be saying bring the elections back and have it now.”
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 case of a vacancy at the House, the Constitution says the Speaker should inform the NEC within 30 days, and the NEC will in turn conduct by-elections within 90 days.
However, countering the CPP’s argument, Cllr. Koffa said given there was a delay in the process, it was prudent to take into consideration other factors such as resource constraints that may have compelled the House to adjust the elections’ date.
“We have to understand that even in the context of the sphere of our democracy, there are resource issue. The reasons why we will combine them together is because it is easier to conduct the process,” he said.
He continues: “There is no great harm that is going to happen as the result of that. So, to me, it becomes a political questions. And when the court is faced with political question, it generally deferred to the political branch of government.”