Liberia: Lawmaker Seeks Writ of Prohibition on Pending By-Elections

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By Lennart Dodoo, [email protected]

Monrovia – Representative Yekeh Kolubah, a member of House of Representatives, has petitioned the Supreme Court of Liberia to call off the pending senatorial by-elections for Montserrado and Bong Counties, stating conducting the by-elections on the proposed date before the legislature would be unconstitutional.

According to the petition filed against the National Elections Commission (NEC) before Associate Justice Jamesetta Wokollie, holding the by-elections at a later date either than the constitutional requirement would be a bad precedent that must not be encouraged.

Last week, the National Elections Commission wrote President George Weah that it is prepared to conduct the by-elections for both counties no later than July 31, 2018. President Weah, then informed the Legislature of the NEC’s decision and requested the body to pass a resolution adopting the new date.

The Legislature is yet to make a decision on the President’s request.

However, Rep. Kolubah says there’s no legal basis for the postponement of the by-elections for both counties.

The void in the Senate was created by the ascendancy of President George Weah and Vice President Jewel Howard-Taylor to the country’s highest posts. Both represented Montserrado and Bong Counties, respectively at the Senate.

Article 37 of the 1896 Constitution says, “In the event of a vacancy in the Legislature caused by death, resignation, expulsion or otherwise, the presiding officer shall within 30 days notify the Elections Commission thereof. The Elections Commission shall not later than 90 days thereafter cause a by-elections to be held; provided that where such vacancy occurs within 90 days prior to the holding of general election.”

According to Rep. Kolubah’s argument, the Elections Commission was notified in compliance with the law, but “refused, failed, and neglected to satisfy the provision of the Constitution”.

“Petitioner most respectfully prays Your Honor to order the Clerk of this Honorable Court to issue the Alternative Writ of Prohibition, prohibiting, restraining and enjoining the Respondents [Cllr. Jerome Korkoya, National Elections Commission] from exercising the conduct of the by-elections for the vacancy of the offices of the Senators for Montserrado and Bong Counties for reasons stated supra and to show cause, if any, why this Petition should not be granted,” he petitioned.

Why the By-Elections Was Delayed

The by-elections for the two counties was expected to be held on May 9, 2018, at the cost of US$3.9 million. But while Elections Commission was waiting on the government to make the fund available, Finance Minister Samuel Tweah told a news conference the amount was too exorbitant, noting that the government could only make available US$1.2 million.

“While we are interested in obeying the orders of our constitution by holding by-elections to fill vacant public seats that call for election, it is also fair enough to say here that that amount is too huge and not in the interest of the pro-poor agenda of this government,” he said, adding that the amount is unrealistic.

Tweah then advised the Elections Commission to make use of poll workers previously trained for the conduct of the 2017 presidential and general elections to save the cost of training new staff. He also said that the government was going to seek the intervention of international partners in mitigating the costs through the provision of logistics.

But the NEC on May 9, 2017, called a press conference to announce its inability to conduct the senatorial by-elections due to inadequate financial support from the government. At the time, according to the NEC, the government had only committed US$500,000 to the process.

On Wednesday, May 23rd, the Chairman of NEC, Cllr. Jerome G. Korkoya announced that the Commission has received from the Government of Liberia additional US$1,009,938 as part of the funding for the hosting of by-elections.

“This brings the total amount provided by the Government of Liberia to US$1,509,938,” Cllr. Korkoya disclosed.

More Vacancy Likely After The By-election

The government must perhaps begin to find funding for the conduct of another round of by-election immediately after this ensuing one. In Montserrado County, Representative Saah Joseph of the ruling Coalition was elected at the Coalition’s primary to contest the seat that was once occupied by the Coalition’s standard-bearer.

At the same time, Representative Malvin Cole has also gained the support of Vice President Jewel Howard-Taylor to be her successor in Bong County. Should the pair emerge victorious if the by-elections are conducted, two vacancies would again be created in the House of Representatives.

Rep. Joseph was re-elected in the October 2017 elections by residents of Montserrado County District 11 for the second time. Representative Cole ousted former Representative George Mulbah of Bong County District 3. His recent election is his first at the House of Representatives.

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