Aggrieved Parties, NEC Trade Blame Over Election Delay
Monrovia – There is a great deal of uncertainty hanging over Liberia’s presidential elections. Looking at the status quo, even the National Elections Commission (NEC) cannot predict when the elections would be held. Many Liberians are concerned, too, but they’re interestingly coping with this rarely acceptable uncertainty.
Report by Lennart Dodoo, [email protected]
“…NEC is also a party, the Defendant—a legal anomaly, where the NEC is both a party to the litigation and the judge. It is, therefore, almost impossible for the Political Parties to proceed expeditiously with the hearing of the matter, when the NEC is obstructing every judicious move on the part of the Political Parties.” – Joint Statement from LP, UP, ANC and ALP
Time is running out on the country as President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf should be replaced on the second working Monday in January 2018.
This has also been an apprehension to the sitting President. What’s more disturbing is that she might not get the opportunity to hand over power to a democratically elected President – everything is on hold.
In early November, she expressed this as a serious concern to the Presidents of the Republics of Guinea and Togo upon their invitation to mediate peace talk between political parties protesting the October 10 election results.
“We will like to say to you Mr. President that we believe ECOWAS stands by the position that this democratic process must be concluded within the time frame of the Constitution so that I may be able to retire and end this transition successfully,” President Sirleaf requested.
Of course she’ll retire; but successfully? That’s the question.
The runoff election has been stalled due to suspicion of electoral fraud and irregularities on a mass scale that probably affected the outcome of the October 10 election.
The opposition Liberty Party took the lead in taking up litigation with the National Elections Commission.
The party claims to have tons of evidence to back their claims. Surprisingly, they were joined by the ruling Unity Party that was already poised to contest the runoff with its long and tall standing rival, the Coalition for Democratic Change, led by soccer legend Senator George Manneh Weah.
The All Liberian Party of Mr. Benoni Urey and Alexander Cummings’ Alternative National Congress also back the Liberty Party’s legal stance on the election.
Together they succeeded in attaining a Writ of Prohibition from the Supreme Court to halt the runoff election and all its preceding processes, while their allegations are being investigated by the hearing Office of the NEC and a subsequent determination of their concerns.
This legal battle has ignited mixed reactions among Liberians.
There is a great sense of appreciation among the public for the legal course Cllr. Charles Walker Brumskine initiated on the election. For some Liberians, he has set precedent for the contestation of election results in the future.
But for others, his action and that of the ruling and collaborating parties is one of insincerity intended to dent the chances of the Senator George Weah being elected President.
Some conspiracy theories have it that legal process is intended to create deliberate delay in order to get President Sirleaf out of the election’s way. She has been accused by almost all the parties of interfering with the election and having influence on the results.
The office of the President has, however, vehemently refuted this claim.
The hearing at the NEC is still ongoing – it is entering its third week.
It took the Unity Party two weeks to produce its evidence and witnesses to support its grave allegations. Some of its witnesses included former NEC chairperson, Cllr. Frances Johnson-Allison who is also a former Chief Justice, the UP Chairman, Wimot Paye, an IT expert, among others.
The NEC produced only two witnesses over the weekend and now final argument is scheduled for Monday, November 20, 2017.
In the midst of all these, the call by many Liberians is that no single Liberian should have the right to stop Liberians in general from selecting their leader.
The stagnation of the electoral process is leading to economic hardship and scarcity of some essential goods, especially in leeward counties.
Cross border trade men and women have decided to hold on, waiting to see the outcome of the political fracas.
The agitated parties believe the delay in legally resolving the matter is due to the NEC being a party litigant and at the same time the judge of facts.
In a joint statement issued recently, the parties noted, “We would also like to assure all Liberians, our ECOWAS brothers and sisters, and the international community, that the Political Parties are doing everything legally and practicably possible to have the case that is currently pending before the NEC expeditiously determined.
But we ask all to understand that the Political Parties are not the only parties to the action of the alleged “Violation of the Constitution and Elections Law of Liberia, Massive Election Frauds, and Gross Irregularities”; the NEC is also a party, the Defendant—a legal anomaly, where the NEC is both a party to the litigation and the judge.
It is, therefore, almost impossible for the Political Parties to proceed expeditiously with the hearing of the matter, when the NEC is obstructing every judicious move on the part of the Political Parties.”
Friday’s ruling by the Supreme Court in the Bill of Information filed by the UP proved otherwise from these parties’ assertion.
From the view of the Supreme Court, what has been amiss in the hearing at the NEC is that lawyers representing the Unity Party have otherwise turned the hearing office into a full fletch civil law court room – putting forth all sort of motions and technicalities.
Chief Justice Francis S. Korkpor, also expressed his disgust with the slowness of hearing at the NEC. He said, despite the fact that NEC has 30 days to hear the case; it is not under obligation to exhaust all 30 days.
“You see five of us sitting on this bench we can hear 10 election cases in a two-day period and make determinations. Election cases should be taken seriously by NEC,” he said.
At one point in time, Associate Justice Philip A.Z. Banks, III advised both the UP and the NEC to speed up with the process and leave the technical issues with the Supreme Court, if the need be.
The UP’s Bill of Information filed with the Supreme Court was from the backdrop that the NEC was hesitating to produce the Final Registration Roll (FRR) and other important election related documents, like the addendum to the FRR created October 10.
However, the Supreme Court ruled, reminding the agitated party that the Electoral Body has up to 30 days for the hearing.
Associate Justice Jamesetta Howard Wolokollie told both party litigants that the intervention of the Supreme Court when NEC still has jurisdiction on the matter is ultra vires to the Court (beyond one’s legal power or authority).
The High Court in its opinion averred that there is no reason to hold the NEC in contempt when the commission has not exceeded the time given it under the Constitution.
In an interview with FrontPageAfrica, the Director of Communications at the NEC, Mr. Henry Flomo, said it beats his imagination how the political parties would squarely blame the electoral body for the delay in the trial.
He said the NEC has from time-to-time been expeditious with the hearing, but lamented that the political parties dragged with the production of witnesses.
He boasted that the NEC produced only two witnesses and has already rested with the production of more witnesses.
He informed this paper that arguments were originally scheduled for last Saturday evening, but according to him, the UP informed them that they were ready for the final arguments; therefore, it was scheduled for Monday, November 30, 2017 at 3:00 PM.