Liberia: Civil Society Council Hails Supreme Court’s Ruling Against Referendum

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MONROVIA – The National Civil Society Council of Liberia (NCSCL) has welcomed the Supreme Court of Liberia’s annulment of the national referendum, which was scheduled to take place alongside the midterm, senatorial elections on December 8.

The court in a unanimous opinion on Wednesday ruled in favor of the opposition Collaborating Political Parties (CPP), which filed a writ of prohibition against the proceedings in October. And the NCSCL praised the court for its decision.

“This nullification is indeed a critical representation of the popular will of the people of Liberia against the holding of the referendum as was scheduled by the National Elections Commission (NEC),” the NCSCL said in a statement on Thursday. Nationwide consultations with civil society organizations across the lengths and breadths of Liberia had established that holding the referendum as was scheduled would have done the state more harm than good,” it added.

The council said its members had raised concerns about information, sensitization, awareness and education on the referendum that were “extremely critical to be ignored” and would have “haunted the country badly.

“The Council maintains that amending provisions of the Constitution is a critical process that requires massive preparation, feasible participation and informed decision, which must be achieved on the popular mandate of the people that is derived when they are massively informed and mobilized and adequately prepared to participate,” read the statement.

The CPP had argued that the Government of Liberia’s official gazette on the referendum was inconsistent with Article 92 of the Constitution. That article states, “….If more than one proposed amendment is to be voted upon in a referendum, they shall be submitted in such manner that the people may vote for or against them separately.”  

That was not the case. If the referendum would have been allowed, all three prepositions—to reduce the tenures of the President and representatives from six to five years, and the senators from nine to six years—would have one “Yes” or “No” voting option. There would have been no way for a voter to cast a their ballot individually on each preposition.  Given the lack of adequate public education and awareness on the proposals, CPP lawyers argued, such a choice was not only unconstitutional, but “tantamount to a deliberate attempt to entrapping the voter to a pre-determined outcome.”

“It would have actually been chaotic and confusing had we forced our people to vote with three ballot papers, one representing the senatorial elections, one focusing on the prepositions of the referendum and one addressing the two by-elections in Montserrado and Sinoe at the same time,” said the council in the statement.   

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