Representative Richard Koon Submits Bill Seeking the Amendment of Liberia’s 1986 Elections Law

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Capitol Hill, Monrovia – Representative Richard Nagbe Koon (UP, District 11, Montserrado County) has submitted a bill before the House of Representatives seeking the amendment of several sections of the 1986 Elections Law of Liberia.

The bill, if passed will among other things, change the pattern of appointing the Election Commissioners,  increase the number of voters at a voting precinct and  increase registration fees for candidates vying for presidential, vice presidential and legislative seats. The draft law is also seeking to establish a special institution to handle and adjudicate electoral complaints and give diaspora Liberians the right to vote.

In a communication to the Plenary through House Speaker Bhofal Chambers, Rep. Koon said the new provisions contained in the draft law are recommendations and proposals by major stakeholders including the Good Governance Commission, the National Elections Commission (NEC) Civil Society, national and international elections observation organizations, drawn up from series of electoral reform dialogues and seminars held with the House Committee on Elections and Inaugurations across the country over the last three years. 

After 36 years since the Elections Law was passed, he said it was prudent to revisit the law and address some of the ‘stone-aged problems’ to make it conform to current realities and strengthen Liberia’s democracy.

“Hon. Speaker, Hon. Deputy Speaker, distinguish colleagues, if our Elections Law of 1986 are amended to the reality of time, the new elections law will address those stone-aged problems we continue to encountered over the years,” he said.

In addition, he said the amended Elections Law will improve the framework, context and conduct of elections in Liberia; improve transparency ‘greatly’ that will continue to sustain free and fair elections in Liberia; ensure a level plain field for all political parties and independent candidates participating in politics and vying for public elective offices in Liberia and provide equitable representation of eligible voters and equal constituency representation in the country’s body politics.

He said: “It will create a separate institution to handle and adjudicate electoral complaints, appeals and thereof go to the Supreme Court for final ruling; knowing that the Commission can be overwhelmed with electoral complaints, which always have had some negatives perception on the capacity and neutrality of the Commission to effectively execute its core mandate, i.e., conducting elections freely, fairly and transparently.”

The Amendments

In its current form, Chapter 2 of the Elections Law designates the National Elections Commission as an autonomous public commission established by the Constitution of Liberia, places it under the direction and management of seven commissioners appointed by the President of Liberia. It is headed by a chairperson and assisted by co-Chairperson. All of the appointments are being subject to Senate confirmation.

However, the proposed law is calling for the process of appointing the commissioners to begin with public vetting exercise that will be supervised by a seven-person recruitment panel. The panel will be set up by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Liberia, and it include representation from  civil society organizations working on elections, Inter-Religious Council of Liberia, women groups, the Liberia National Bar Association, Governance Commission, the Press Union of Liberia and the Liberian Business Association. 

The Panel shall then submit a shortlist of names, at most nine of the successful candidates to the Chief Justices for onward submission to the President who shall appoint the Commissioners with one of them as Chairperson and another as Co-chairperson.  For institutional memory and continuity, the draft laws calls for the appointment of Commissioners to be staggered, meaning the arrangement of their tenure should not start at the same time. All of the appointments shall be subject to the consent of the Senate. 

If passed, Section 2.1 of the new law will be read as: “The National Elections Commission, as an autonomous public commission established by the Constitution of Liberia, shall be under direction and management of seven (7) commissioners, of whom at least three shall be of either sex, appointed by the President of Liberia. The process of appointment of the Commissioners shall begin with public vetting /scrutiny as a first step to produce a short list of candidates from which the President shall nominate to the Senate for confirmation.  Among the confirmed Commissioners, the President shall appoint one as Chair and another as Co-Chair of the Board of Commissioners; of whom one shall be of other either sex.  No two Commissioners shall come from the same county.”

In addition, it called for the commissioners to serve for the period of seven years, and may be re-appointed for a second and final term of seven years; and they may be removed through impeachment proceedings consistent with due process of law, upon proof of misconduct.

According to the proponent, this will prevent perpetual appointment of an individual by the President and further guarantee the independence of the Commission.

Eligibility for Diaspora Liberians

The new law is seeking the amendment of Section 3.1 of the current law to add Paragraph Four under the caption ‘Diaspore Registration and Voting’.

It states that all Liberian citizens living in the Diaspora shall have the right to vote in Liberia’s presidential elections in every election year provided they produce a valid Liberian passport or a Liberian National Identification Card (also known as Citizens ID Card) from the National Identification Registry (NIR).

To make this work, the law empowers the NEC to set up polling places at various Liberian embassies or selected areas as deemed necessary by the Election body. It called for the number of voters at a voting precinct to increase from 3,000 to 4,000.

Hefty Increase in Applications Fees  

For the office of President, application fees, under the new law will be US$15,000, a whooping increasing from just US$2,500; Vice President, US10,000 down from US$1.500. For the office of Senator, US$7,500 from US$750 while the office of the member of the House of Representatives increased to US$5,000 from the current US$500. All of these monies can be paid in its Liberian dollars equivalence.

For any other elective public office, the law stipulates that the amount shall be determined by the Commission and shall neither be less than the Liberian dollar equivalent US$100, nor more than US$1000.

Meanwhile, the Plenary of the House, acting in favor of a motion proffered by Rep. Erol Madison Gwion (District #1, Grand Gedeh), mandated its Committees on Elections and Inaugurations, Good Governance and Judiciary to report within two weeks.

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