Proposed Changes Affecting Liberia’s By-Elections
During the week of August 11, 2019, the Executive Branch of the Liberian Government, through President George Weah, proposed a number of constitutional amendments to be considered by the Legislature. Among the proposition, President Weah called for the abolishment of by-elections and recommended that “any vacancy created by death, resignation, expulsions or otherwise of a senator or representative, should be filled by appointment by the ‘duly elected County Councils’ within 90 days from the time the notice of vacancy is announced to the County Council by the presiding officer of the Senate or the House of Representatives.”
Chris Tokpah, [email protected], Contributing Writer
Where I agree with the President
I agree with the President on the need to abolish by-elections. In Africa, we have somewhat become convinced that if we have elections, then we have a democracy. While election is essential to the democratic process, it cannot and should not be the only variable used in the democratic equation. A functioning democracy must be able to meet the needs of citizens; by-election process is extremely expensive and takes away needed resources from government. While one can argue that the influx of campaign dollars is good for the economy because it spurs local business, the counter-argument is that our recent history suggests the income could be at a high cost with long term implications. The recent saga in district 15 Monserrado County by-election shows that election expense can go beyond the money to pay election officers and acquire voting materials, and extend to security issues and other factors that undermine peace. Additionally, these instances of violence could give rise to festering anger that could explode at the wrong time. As if this wasn’t lesson enough, we now have a partial rerun of a rerun thus increasing cost and its attendant uncertainties. The millions of dollars spent on these by-elections could have been better spent on education, health and other social services.
Where I disagree with the President
Where I disagree with the President is that manner in which a departing representative or senator could be replaced. President Weah is proposing that a ‘duly elected County Council’ be given the responsibility of selecting a replacement. I am opposed to this idea for the following reasons: (1) Assuming that this County Council will be elected on the next ballot, what will be their role beyond selecting a replacement? Will this be another group of bureaucrats that have to be paid by the County (via county development funds) or by the government? We already have a bloated national wage bill that needs to be significantly reduced and, while the cost of maintaining the Council far outweighs the cost of running a by-election, the expense is still an unaffordable luxury. (2) If we know one thing to be true, we know that Liberia is filled with corrupt individuals. A “County Council” which relies on the central government for its upkeep will be easily susceptible to bribe and manipulation from whichever party controls the government. It is highly likely (I will even venture to say it is 100% likely) that this Council will rubberstamp whoever is recommended to them by the ruling party thus denying citizens of the right to select their representative.
Recommendation for Consideration
I believe there is a way to avoid the repeated by-elections cost while maintaining the sanctity of electorates picking a candidate of their choice. Consider this: We could create the ballot in such a way that for each representative or senatorial election, the citizens are allowed to pick the candidate of their choice and also pick 2 replacements. So maybe if this is an election with 7 candidates on the ballot (and we know some of our district elections have more than 10!), the voter can be asked to mark 1, 2, and 3 for their top 3 candidates. When the results are tallied, the person who gets the most number 1 votes become the winner. The person with the most number 2 votes become the representative/senator in waiting and the 3rd winner becomes the 3rd replacement if 1 and 2 are not available. Since winners #2 and winner #3 will not take an oath of office until they are sworn in, government incurs no additional expense. Additionally, one can argue that all of these individuals were duly voted by their citizens. This process seems a lot fairer than when one considers using a “County Council” which could be easily converted to a “Council of Crooks”.