Liberia: Supreme Court Gives NEC Greenlight for By-Elections; Says NEC Violated No Law, The House of Reps Did
Monrovia – The Supreme Court on Thursday, October 28, 2020 ruled and shifted blame on lawmakers for violating the Constitution relating to the holding of by-elections for the replacement of Montserrado County District 9 and Sinoe County District 2 Representatives.
The Supreme Court’s ruling came as the result of a petition for a Writ of Mandamus filed by the Collaborating Political Parties (CPP) that is made of the former ruling Unity Party (UP), Alternative National Congress (ANC), the Liberty Party (LP) and the All Liberian Party (ALP).
In their petition which was filed against the National Election Commission (NEC) as 1st respondent, National Legislature, 2nd respondent and the Executive Branch of Government 3rd respondent, the opposition political parties called on the Supreme Court to issue an alternative writ that would have compelled the NEC to hold the by-election to replace fallen lawmakers, Nagbe Sloh (CDC) Sinoe County District #2 and Munah Pelham Youngblood (CDC) Montserrado County #9 in line with Article 37 of the 1986 Constitution.
Article 37 of the 1986 Constitution provides that in case of vacancy in the House as the result of death, resignation and impeachment, the House of Representatives through the office of the Speaker shall notify the National Election in the period of 30 days and that by-election for that vacant seat shall take place within the period of 90 days.
In the instant case with the two fallen lawmakers, the CPP writ of Mandamus stated that the NEC in fragrant violation of the law failed to conduct the by-election in the time frame of the law as required. They added that setting December 8, 2020 for the by-election, far exceeds the time of by-election which by law should have been held on October 28, 2020.
The CPP continued that the Executive Branch of Government which is the third respondent in the writ by law is required to provide the necessary funding for the conduct of election in the country including by-election.
However, in the wake of the CPP’s petition to the high court Associate Justice Jamesette Howard Wolokollie who was designated by Chief Justice Francis Korkpor to read out the court’s opinion stated that it was the House of Representatives that violated the Article 37 of the Constitution.
Associate Justice Wolokollie added that Sinoe County District #2 Representative Nagbe Sloh died on June 10, 2020 while Representative Munah Pelham Youngblood died on July 8, 2020 and instead, the House of Representative chose to notify the NEC on September 10,2020 about the existing of the two vacancies.
According to the Associate Justice Wolokollie, the time frame since the death of Representative Sloh was 72 days while for Representative Munah Pelham Youngblood was 64 days, thus far exceeding the 30-day period as required by law.
She added that the holding of by-election was not based on discretion but rather a constitutional mandate.
The House of Representatives had argued that the Supreme Court does not have the power to review its work. However, Justice Wolokollie noted that, the Supreme Court, pursuant to the constitutional power of review, has jurisdiction over all cases whether emanating from courts of record, courts of non- record, administrative agencies, autonomous agencies or any other authority both as to law and fact and that the Legislature shall make no law nor create any exceptions as would deprive the Supreme Court of any powers granted to it under the Constitution.
Justice Wolokollie stated that the exercise of its jurisdiction, the Supreme Court or its justice sitting in Chambers may cite, command, summon, mandate, order or instruct party litigants to do or refrain from doing any act, including the issuance of the alternative writ of mandamus directed to the Legislative and the Executive Branches.
“That notwithstanding our position that, Mandamus will not lie; we take note however, that the delays in the conduct of by-elections to fill vacancies in the Legislature negatively impact and undermine the exercise of the right of the people to representation in the governance of the country, a right enshrined in the Constitution of Liberia. Institutions of government are, therefore, obliged to strictly adhere to timelines set by the Constitution and other laws for the conduct of by elections,” said Wolokollie.
Associate Wollokollie continued that the Writ of Mandamus will not lie against NEC as NEC set the by-elections time whine 90 days after receiving nonfiction from the presiding officer of the House of Representatives as mandated by the Constitution.
Again, Justice Wolokollie stated that the 2nd respondent the presiding officer of the House of Representatives, had already notified the NEC of the vacancies in the House of Representatives occasioned by the deaths of Honorable Sloh and Munah Youngblood before the filing of this petition for mandamus as such there was no duty left to be performed since the extraordinary writ of mandamus is not intended to correct the late performance of any official duty.
As for the Executive Branch of Government Associate Wolokollie indicated that there is no showing of any dereliction or non-performance of an official duty to warrant the issuance of the writ of mandamus.
“Wherefore and in view of the foregoing, the alternative writ of mandamus is squashed and the peremptory writ is denied,” Justice Wolokollie stated.
The chairman of the CPP, Mr. Alexander B. Cummings, told reporters at the Temple of Justice that the CPP would meet as a body and make a decision on their next course of action.